Posted by: mutantpoodle | July 28, 2007

In lusum est spes

luckovich-gay-marriageThere hasn’t been much good news in the sports section lately – an NBA ref betting on his own games, a star NFL quarterback indicted for his role in illegal dogfights, so many cyclists booted from the Tour de France for doping violations that a kid on a tricycle could come close to a podium finish, and Hank Aaron’s major league home run record is about to be broken by a man who used steroids (and is, sadly, also kind of a jerk).

So it was nice to see a story about athletes in today’s LA Times by David Wharton that gives me hope. And it’s not your standard, against all odds, battle against larger forces story. (Well, it is, sort of.)

It’s about young athletes who are openly gay, and the largely yawn-like reaction that fact garners from their teammates.

This tells me two things.

First, more openly gay teens leads to more acceptance of openly gay teens. (It’s hard to demonize someone you know; it’s hard to demonize a group which contains people you know.)

Second, the GOP’s Gay Marriage boogeyman may be collecting Social Security soon.

First, the story:

Sociologists see the openness as a generational shift. Polls suggest a growing percentage of young people have more relaxed views about sexual orientation than their parents did.

In Seattle, [Lucas] Goodman began dropping hints around his eight-man boat more than a year ago. He talked with his best friend, and with another rower who seemed both understanding and physically large enough to make a good ally.

When word spread, no one teased or whispered about him. The crew saves money by sharing hotel beds on the road, and the teammate who bunks with Goodman didn’t mind.

“So what if I sleep in the same bed with a straight guy or with Lucas?” Casey Ellis asked. “Either way, there’s going to be another guy there with me.”

Within a few weeks, Goodman figures, the surprise of his announcement wore off and “it ended up not being that big a deal.”

Which is what makes his story, and others like it, a very big deal.

At this point, I like to give my usual disclaimer about reading trends from anecdotes. That said, this anecdotal stories meshes pretty well with recent polling, so let’s continue:

John Amaechi revealed his sexual orientation in a recent autobiography, “Man in the Middle,” published after he left the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Assn. He sensed the change in attitude when he visited a Southern college campus during a promotional tour.”A bunch of shirtless frat guys playing volleyball recognized me and started yelling,” he said. “They were saying that they love what I’m doing.”

Joey Fisher encountered a similar response at the University of Georgia, where his teammates recall thinking, Wow, gay people play hockey? when the goalie came out. No one mentioned anything to him at first.

But then, Fisher said, “about three days into training camp, one of my teammates tried to set me up with a friend of his. A guy.”


As a freshman at Harvard, Sarah Vaillancourt simply decided to stop hiding her sexual orientation.

Whenever the subject of dating or relationships arose, she spoke frankly.

“If they weren’t going to accept me on the team,” she said, “I wasn’t going to stay.”

It helped that Vaillancourt quickly established herself among the top scorers on her college hockey squad and a rising star for Team Canada back home in Quebec. But she knew that as a lesbian, she would encounter challenges different from those facing gay male athletes.

On the plus side, she grew up with role models such as Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova in tennis, Sheryl Swoopes in basketball and Rosie Jones in golf. Fans have come to expect a certain percentage of lesbians in women’s sports.

This expectation also counts as a negative. In some circles, athletic women are automatically presumed to be lesbians, which can spark resentment among straight athletes.


Harvard players said they quickly warmed to Vaillancourt’s wit and self-confidence and her straightforward manner in speaking about her sexual orientation. Off the team, some classmates did not react as kindly.

“I think it’s because they don’t have gay friends,” said Laura Brady, a Harvard forward. “They just don’t know.”

Vaillancourt, now a 22-year-old junior, occasionally wonders about all the fuss. With so much of her time spent playing hockey and studying, “being gay is only a small part of who I am,” she said.

In moments of impatience, she reminds herself that some people struggle to accept homosexuality for religious and other deep-seated reasons.

“You have to give people a chance to get used to all this,” she said.

That is, of course, the key. And people get used to it when it becomes a part of their lives that they no longer think about. When Jim and Fred are the neighbors, not the gay neighbors. That comes in time.

What’s here now is a generation that is growing up with peers who are open about their sexuality, and by that openness and pride dissolving most people’s resistance to – and prejudices about – gays.

Which is not to say that everything is hunky-dory:

The gym door was locked when Brian Schwind and his football teammates trudged off the practice field that day almost three years ago. As they waited for coaches with a key, Schwind realized he was surrounded.

The sophomore was new to Foothill High School near Redding. By football standards he was smallish, a special teams player who stood only 5 feet 7. The larger players crowding around him demanded to know: Was he gay?

“Either I could tell the truth and have the crap beat out of me or I could lie and save myself,” Schwind said. “My mom always told me to stand up for what I believe, so I told them.”

A linebacker stepped in to prevent further trouble, but for the rest of the fall Schwind felt ostracized. After football, he went out for wrestling.

“Nobody wanted to wrestle with me,” he recalled. “During weigh-ins, everybody was like, ‘Get him out of the room.’ ”

His experience offers a reminder that poll numbers and television ratings for “Will & Grace” do not always translate to the schoolyard.


WHEN Lucas Goodman thought about coming out, he wasn’t terribly concerned about acceptance — not as an accomplished rower and honors student headed to MIT this fall. He knew that Seattle had a large gay population and that crew was “one of the most elitist liberal yuppie sports you could think of.”

Goodman was more fearful that his sexual orientation might overshadow everything else.

“I want to be known as a rower,” he said. “Not as the gay kid.”

Gay rights advocates are just as eager for openly homosexual athletes to become so common that the issue fades away. That is why they place such hope in the new generation.

“A superstar coming out — I think it will happen, but I don’t think that’s how you create enormous change,” said Johnson, the former high school football player, who now works as a media strategist for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

“You have enormous change with story after story about young people having positive experiences.”

Goodman has already made a difference with the Green Lake Crew.

“Your impulse is not to talk about it because you don’t know if that’s private information or not,” Coach Ed Maxwell said. “But the more you know and the more you understand about people who are different from you, the better off you are.”

Some conservatives think that as today’s tolerant young get older, they’ll get, well, less tolerant. “More conservative” is the phrase I’m sure they’d prefer. But that seems a fleeting hope. Ignorance is bigotry’s best friend, and time and experience usually take care of ignorance. They almost never buck it up.

In 2004, Peter Levine posted data on attitudes toward gay college professors over time. The data start in 1973, and show tolerance trending upwards over time for each age demographic. But not only that – individuals tended to become more tolerant as they grew older.

I graduated from high school in 1977, and when I was learning to drive, my mother wisely outsourced the task to our neighbor Michael, who drove a Chevy Vega panel wagon with a five speed manual transmission. Michael and his partner lived next door, and there were very few gay stereotypes that they skipped. But Michael was smart and funny, and didn’t have 15 years of baggage to sort through as he taught me to handle a car, and I learned to drive just fine.

Michael’s mother was a Seventh Day Adventist, and later on he went down to visit her in Texas and got converted. When he came back, he was still gay, but much less funny – probably because he was less comfortable in his own skin. My mom asked me at one point later on if I knew that Michael was gay, and I told her I’d figured it out. And that it really wasn’t an issue. My mother didn’t have lots of people in Minneapolis she could count on, as I recall, but Michael was one of them, and that’s what mattered.

So I will never – and I mean never – accept hate legislation aimed a gays. I am in good company now, I think. In time, I will be in a solid majority, and those who would penalize anyone for their God-given sexual preference may be loud, and they may have troglodytes representing them in Washington, DC, but they will be a dwindling minority, comforted only by their ignorance and by reinforcement from the hollow echo chamber that passes for their souls.

[Cartoon by Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.]


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