The National Center for Lesbian Rights announced today that a San Francisco softball team’s second-place finish in the 2008 Gay Softball World Series has been reinstated as part of a settlement with the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance on behalf of three bisexual players.
“It means a lot to me that NAGAAA is going to recognize our second place finish in 2008,” said D2 player/coach 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.”
San Francisco’s D2 (team pictured at right) was playing in the championship game in Kent, Washington against the Los Angeles Vipers when the game was repeatedly stopped for an ad hoc panel to review an eligibility challenge filed by another team. The challenge said that D2 was in violation of NAGAAA’s Rule 7.05, which restricts teams in the series to a maximum of two heterosexual players. According to papers filed in the lawsuit, five players fro D2 were questioned. Even though players say they gave similar answers to detailed questions about their personal lives and preferences, two Caucasian players were ruled “gay,” but three players – Charles, Steven Apilado and Jon Russ – were ruled “not gay.” All three are men non-Caucasian.
Earlier this year, NAGAAA amended its rules to be more inclusive of bisexual and transgender athletes, eliminating any restriction on the number of players who identify as bisexual or transgender.
UC Berkeley law professor Russell K. Robinson, one of the experts whose research was used by NCLR, said. “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 a statement published Monday, NCLR said that as part of 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.”
NAGAAA, NCLR, and law firm K and L Gates LLP, which represented the plaintiffs, also agreed to participate to continue discussions about making sports more inclusive and to co-sponsor a panel discussion at the 2012 Gay Softball World Series in Minneapolis about different ways to create and sustain inclusiveness and fight homophobic discrimination.
“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 attorney Suzanne Thomas.
The lawsuit had challenged the invasive and subjective process by which the disqualifications were made and the unconstitutionality of an LGBT organization being allowed to bar straights from an activity in a public park protected by non-discrimination laws. An earlier court ruling on the case found that NAGAAA as an “expressive group” like the Boy Scouts of America had the right to discriminate. Chris Stoll, senior staff attorney for NCLR, told the Bay Area Reporter that ruling will stand despite this settlement.
“The decision does remain on the books, but because it is so inconstant with other court rulings it will not be cited much,” Stoll said. “The ruling is kind of confusing. I think the judge just has the law wrong. We were pretty confident that if we continued with the litigation that ruling would have been overturned.”
– by Roger Brigham