In Gay Softball, If They Ask, Don’t Tell

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Shutterstock
    The 2013 Gay Softball World Series will take place in D.C.

    For the flamboyantly fabulous print edition of Washington City Paper, I wrote this week about the 2013 Gay Softball World Series just being awarded to our city.

    I was impressed, in a "We've-Come-a-Long-Way-Baby!" sort of way, by the mundanity of the announcement, that the awarding was a business matter and not a gay business matter. The Series could be worth as much as $10 million to the local economy when it gets here, so it makes sense that the primary color of the rainbow flag in all this was green.

    Guess we are entering an era where the Marines go looking for a few good men and women at a gay center in Tulsa, after all.

    But just as D.C. was getting awarded the series, Christopher Stoll, a locally based senior staff attorney for the Center for Lesbian Rights, was getting ready for a federal trial involving gays and softball and discriminatory practices.

    He's representing three players who were ruled ineligible to play in the gay softball World Series because they were ruled not gay enough.

    "The treatment these guys received is unbelievable," says Stoll.

    The case came out of the 2008 World Series in Seattle. The San Francisco team crushed an Atlanta squad in the semifinals to reach the championship game.

    But, according to Stoll, somebody from Atlanta -- "Either a team member or the commissioner of the Atlanta league," he says -- filed a protest with Series organizers after the loss claiming that the San Francisco squad had too many straight players.

    Men's teams are allowed two non-gay players under the rules of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, the sanctioning body for the series. In the NAGAAA rule book, "gay" is defined as "A predominant sexual interest in a member of the same gender."

    Last time the Gay Softball World Series was held in our area, in 2003, that rule was on the books, but basically unenforced.

    "There's not going to be any police force that will make you prove your sexual orientation," Bruce Sprague, an official with the host league, the D.C.-based Chesapeake and Potomac Softball, told me before the 2003 Series. "That's an exciting thought, but it doesn't work that way."

    Well, it didn't work that way in gay softball in 2003, and it doesn't work that way in the military anymore, but apparently it does work that way in gay softball these days.

    At least, it did in 2008. That's when the championship game of the Seattle tourney was interrupted when the protest was lodged, and afterwards five San Francisco players were hauled before a panel.

    "Three said they were bisexual, another one said he was gay, and one refused to answer any questions," says Stoll, who is representing the queried players.

    The three players who claimed bisexuality were ruled non-gay by tournament officials. Another of the five said he was gay and his word was accepted.

    And the quiet man?

    "They ruled that the player who refused to answer was gay," says Stoll.

    The ruling on the three self-declared bisexuals put the San Francisco squad one non-gay player over the NAGAAA limit, and the team was forced to forfeit all games and its second-place World Series finish. They sued, alleging illegal discrimination, and the case will go to trial next month in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

    NAGAAA officials do not deny that bisexuality wasn't good enough, but in an open letter after the lawsuit was filed, officials for the group said "there has been no wrong-doing, and the case is unfounded."

    Stoll says he hopes the suit forces NAGAAA to end its exclusionary rules.

    Asked if thought a rule change to allow more non-gays to participate would water down or mean the end of the Gay World Series, Stoll said: "There are many, many gay sports organizations out there, and this is one of only a handful that still have this exclusionary rule. The Gay Games, by far the largest gay sporting event, has no rule against people based on sexual orientation. Gay basketball doesn't have a rule like this. Gay rugby, gay wrestling don't have a rule like this. Any number of sports leagues have found that you don't need to exclude people, and, in fact, that it's counterprouductive to do that. In this day and age?"

    But the Stray Cats' focus on X's and O's has caused some friction.

    "Beat L.A.!" chants have been heard during recent competitions, and two years ago, Cyd Ziegler, a columnist for OutSports.com, a Web site that covers gay sports, complained that the team's focus come World Series time wasn't in the spirit of the event.

    "While the rest of the teams are having fun, enjoying the games and enjoying each other, the Stray Cats find their worth in winning year after year," Ziegler wrote. "If this was the Major League Baseball World Series, I could understand that. But it's not. It seems to me the Stray Cats, with all of their trophies, just don't get it."

    The columnist also criticized the Stray Cats for their limited use of out-of-town and nongay players; men's teams are allowed two of each under the rules of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, the sanctioning body for the series.

    While proof of residency is easy enough to establish -- a driver's license, canceled check or utility bill would suffice -- sexual orientation is a trickier matter. Tournament organizers take a participant's word when it comes to meeting that requirement.

    "There's not going to be any police force that will make you prove your sexual orientation," Bruce Sprague, an official with the host league, the D.C.-based Chesapeake and Potomac Softball, says while chuckling. "That's an exciting thought, but it doesn't work that way."

    In Gay Softball, If They Ask, Don’t Tell was originally published by Washington City Paper on Oct. 7, 2011.