Locker room: a simple term that conjures up powerful images. For example, nudity, shame, horseplay, humiliation, and camaraderie. Then there's jock. A four-letter-word that makes one think of athletic prowess, honesty, physical fitness and heroes. These terms are especially pertinent in the queer community. Sports is an arena where we have been systematically both revered and despised as participants. The Gay & Lesbian Athletics Foundation (GLAF) hopes to help correct all that. On March 28-30, they will host the first National Gay & Lesbian Athletics Conference in the cities of Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts.
Sports are integral to all of our lives. While the spectrum varies from recreational to professional, one thing is constant, from childhood to our senior years, we play. For many of us, the interaction with teammates is often where we learn our early social skills and for queers especially, sports offer a unique and necessary opportunity for developing non-sexual bonds with members of our same-gender. Yet it is where the lines between sports and sex blur that homophobia flourishes and our work begins.
'The annual conference will provide a forum for LGBT professional, amateur, and recreational athletes from around the world to share their stories and experiences; foster the development of inclusive and supportive athletics environments, dispel myths concerning LGBT athletes, learn from one another; a forum to build networks; foster mentoring relationships; and to promote cooperation—in essence, creating 'community,'' said Mac Chinsomboon, executive director of GLAF. Looking at the greater impact on society, Chinsomboon adds, 'The conference isn't just for 'jocks' but it's for everyone and it's about growing up and having positive role models, mentors, and heroes.'
There is also a huge contingent of queers that don't play, but love to watch sports. These fans suffer the effects of homophobia as well. Professional and collegiate sports organizers want queer dollars, but not queer people. Heterosexist images bombard fans as they enjoy cheering for their favorite teams and one has only to attend one local professional team home game to know that the stadium or arena is not a queer-friendly venue.
'GLAF was formed to defeat the stereotyping and marginalizing of gay and lesbian athletes and sports fans,' Chinsomboon said. He added that his greatest hope 'is that sports will quickly catch up and surpass how gays and lesbians are treated in the business, political, and entertainment worlds—all of which are intertwined. The conference in March is the social platform that will bring LGBT and straight people together to discuss these issues. Sports have always been a way to bring people together. Whether you're playing on your neighborhood softball team or cheering for the Patriots, it's about having fun, doing your best, being a part of the community, and connecting with other people, not who you sleep with.'
Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are co-venues for the conference and the list of partner organizations is quite impressive. It includes the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), Federation of Gay Games, Gay & Lesbian Advocates Against Defamation (GLAAD), Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and Women's Sports Foundation.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King, an advisory board member for GLAF, states, 'This Foundation, as well as the conference, will be a forum for intellectual discussion, debate, investigation and expression and I'm very excited to give it my support.' Joining King at the conference will be former pro basketball player, Mariah Burton Nelson; Olympians Bruce Hayes, Robert Dover, Brian Marshall, and Mark Tewksbury; former National Baseball League umpire, Dave Pallone; the still competing Triple Ironman World Champion and member of the USA Triathlon Team, Christopher Bergland; and others.
Five hundred athletes, coaches, fans, academics, and supporters from around the world are expected to participate in a full weekend of speakers, panel discussions, entertainment, and sports exhibitions.
See www.gayconference.org .