Posted by Melanie Nathan;
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), K&L Gates LLP, and the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA) have negotiated a settlement in a case brought against NAGAAA by three bisexual softball players whose team was disqualified from competition following a protest hearing at the 2008 Gay Softball World Series in Seattle.
The three plaintiffs had been playing together in the San Francisco Gay Softball League for years. Their team had gone to the Gay Softball World Series before, but had never finished better than fourth place. In 2008, the team made it all the way to the championship game, when they were shocked to learn that their eligibility to play was being challenged based on a NAGAAA rule limiting the number of non-gay players who could play on a World Series team.
The players were called into a conference room, where they were questioned in front of more than 25 people, most of them strangers, about their sexual orientations and private lives. The players were forced to answer whether they were “predominantly” interested in men or women, without being given the option of answering that they were bisexual. In response to a player’s statement that he was attracted to both men and women, a NAGAAA member who was in the room stated, “this is not a bisexual world series—this is a gay world series.” NAGAAA’s protest committee voted that the three plaintiffs were “believed to be heterosexual,” and their team was disqualified from its second place finish.
In the settlement, NAGAAA recognized that disqualifying the players from the 2008 tournament was not consistent with NAGAAA’s intention of being inclusive of bisexual players. NAGAAA now recognizes the players’ team—D2—as a second-place winner of the 2008 Gay Softball World Series, and will award the team a second-place trophy. In the settlement, NAGAAA also expressed regret at the impact the 2008 protest hearing process had on the players and their team. NAGAAA confirmed that its records will be amended to reflect the players’ participation in 2008, including the results of all games played by their team.
The players recognize positive advances made by NAGAAA, which in 2011 changed its rules to be fully inclusive of all bisexual and transgender players. The rule changes permit an unlimited number of bisexual or transgender players to participate on a Gay Softball World Series team.
“It means a lot to me that NAGAAA is going to recognize our second place finish in 2008,” said LaRon Charles, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “I am happy NAGAAA has also made rule changes to let players like me know they are welcome. I look forward to continuing to play ball with my friends, teammates and community in NAGAAA’s tournaments.”
“As a result of this case, NAGAAA has clarified that all bisexual and transgender people are welcome to play at its tournaments as full members of the LGBT community,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter. “Every LGBT organization should strive to be a safe and affirming space for everyone, including bisexual and transgender people, people of color, and those who are questioning their sexual orientation. NAGAAA’s decision to amend its rules is a welcome step in that direction.”
Added Seattle litigation counsel Suzanne Thomas of K&L Gates: “This case has helped shine a light on the continuing negative effects of pervasive, historic homophobia and discrimination in sports at all levels and the continued need to combat negative perceptions and stereotypes about LGBT athletes.”
Said Russell K. Robinson, Professor of Law at the University of California Berkeley: “Hopefully NAGAAA’s rule changes will help make the league more welcoming of LGBT people of color. A number of studies have shown that men of color are more likely to identify as bisexual as opposed to gay. By explicitly including all bisexual people in its revised definitions, NAGAAA’s rule changes reduce the likelihood that men of color will disproportionately face exclusion from its tournaments.”
In this case, five players on the plaintiffs’ team were questioned by the protest committee under NAGAAA’s former rule. The three plaintiffs, all men of color, were believed by the committee to be heterosexual and subject to NAGAAA’s two-player limit. The committee voted that the two challenged white players were believed to be gay and not subject to the limit.
NCLR, K&L Gates, and NAGAAA also agreed to participate in an ongoing dialogue about making sports at all levels more inclusive of the entire LGBT community. They will co-sponsor a panel discussion at the 2012 Gay Softball World Series in Minneapolis, MN about different ways to create and maintain LGBT inclusive sports organizations, including discussing participation rules based on sexual orientation, and ways to eradicate homophobia and discrimination.
The softball players were represented by NCLR and Thomas of K&L Gates.