Gender and Sexuality Discrimination in Sports

Today I read an article from, written by Anna Clark, and entitled, “Lesbian athletes just can’t win.”  It’s hard enough being a woman in sports – it’s even harder for non-heterosexual women.  Clark makes some fascinating points:

1) If you go by the official record, Sherri Murrell of Portland State University is the only lesbian coach in Division One women’s basketball out of more than 350 teams.

2) Coaches competing for the best talent will dismiss another program as being a haven for dykes, playing on the homophobia of prospective athletes and their families, and so make their own program supposedly more appealing.

3) The 2009 documentary “Training Rules” tells the story of Penn State University’s Rene Portland who is the stuff of legends, with 27 seasons and a 606-236 overall record.

4) Portland implemented a “No Lesbians” policy, which she curiously defended as a strategy to take the stigma of lesbianism out of women’s sports. Jen Harris was kicked off Portland’s team in 2005, despite being the team’s leading scorer. She filed a lawsuit, alleging that she was cut for her perceived sexual orientation; the suit opened up decades of stories about Portland’s pattern of intimidation and was later settled out of court.

5) Harris’ exit from the team, incidentally, came the same year that Sheryl Swoopes became the first WNBA player to come out of the closet — eight years after the league’s founding. She remains an exception; few gay athletes followed in her footsteps.

6) The WBCA twice awarded Portland its Coach of the Year award and Portland served as the WBCA’s president in 1989-1990 when her well-known “no lesbians” policy was in full effect.

7) Harassment and bullying follow any woman who doesn’t conform to gender norms, and for an extraordinary number of people, the very fact of women playing sports is considered deviant from gender norms. And god forbid you catch a female athlete in bad behavior.

8 ) Some women’s sports teams over-compensate for the public’s discomfort with women who don’t conform to gender norms by issuing promotional campaigns that glam up the athletes, like Florida State University’s straight-girls-going-to-prom” photo shoot this season, as Broadsheet previously reported.


9) As Kate Harding pointed out in Broadsheet, female athletes can’t win for winning: even as the University of Connecticut.  UConn’s women’s basketball team pounded its way to its 78th consecutive win and the NCAA championship this season, it was criticized as actually being bad for women’s sports. The contention was that UConn’s dynasty somehow proved that women’s sports aren’t competitive.  Nobody argues that UCLA’s 88-game winning streak between 1971 and 1974 was evidence of men’s basketball being weak. Indeed, it is celebrated as one of the greatest achievements in all sports….

Read the full article here.

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