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Exclusive rights
by Roger Brigham

jocktalkroger@yahoo.com

A man walks into a gay bar and has trouble getting a drink because he is Asian. A lesbian tries to walk into a gay bar and is asked for five pieces of ID because ... well, because she's a woman. A black transgender drag queen is pulled over driving to the bar because ... oh, lord, so many stupefyingly inane pretenses I can't begin to list them all.

These are the lesser artifacts of homophobic prejudices that continue today (thankfully less frequently than before, but still there) and will continue until the day that everyone finally gets what "live and let live" means and the universal value therein.

The hassles and harassments are battled through an exhaustive campaign of legislation and protests and civil disobedience and riots and prayer and petitions and politicking and all of the other things we do to sway those who do not see the light to turn on the switch and wake up. Activities we do not do because they are fun or easy or exciting but because if we do not do them than we shall never advance our communal being and the next generations will be two steps back from whence we started.

Death to the -isms and the ghettos and the phobias that separate us! We advance gay liberation through the mechanisms of legal protections giving us the right to be who we are wherever we want to be whenever we want to be â€" the most fundamental and modest of the red-white-and-blue American dreams â€" and through daily personal interactions with the mainstream that show we are different but we are all of one.

Which is why the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance is wrong to restrict the number of straights who may be on teams playing in the annual Gay Softball World Series.

Dead wrong. Practically, politically, culturally, socially, morally wrong. Whether they are also legally and constitutionally wrong a federal trial in Seattle in June shall decide. A shame if the guardians of the sport allow things to go that far.

A lawsuit, filed a year ago on behalf of three San Francisco softball players after an ad hoc on-the-spot hearing determined that they were "ungay" and therefore their D2 team would have to forfeit its victories in the 2008 Seattle Gay Softball World Series, is scheduled to be tried in June in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, with Seattle District Court Judge John C. Coughenour presiding.

The choice of judge alone ensures this will be a compelling trial. Coughenour, 69, was first appointed to federal court in 1981 by President Reagan; he has a reputation for excoriating ill-prepared or long-winded attorneys; presided over the high-profile case of "millennium bomber" Ahmed Ressam that resulted in a 22-year prison sentence that was thrown out for being too lenient; and has been labeled by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin as a "moonbeam judge."

According to the lawsuit, the three plaintiffs â€" player/coach LaRon Charles and John Russ, who are African American, and Steven Apilado, who is African American and Filipino â€" were pulled in with a few other players for questioning multiple times during the championship game against the Los Angeles Vipers, a game D2 was winning at various points before losing 31-28. They say they gave the same answers as Caucasian teammates who were ruled by the panel to be "gay" while they were ruled to be "non-gay."

The case has received scant attention nationally, but media have managed to bungle a few of the details nonetheless. The reportorial missteps are worth noting as they hint at the complexities we unleash when we seek to make black-and-white determinations on whom we accept and whom we do not â€" or the rights that become forfeit when we are even forced to declare who we are.

Some media have referred to the men as "heterosexual." Some have referred to them as "bisexual." The reality is the plaintiffs have never publicized their sexual orientations and the press who jump the gun on this trample on the dignity of people's right to define their orientations on their own terms â€" or to eschew labels entirely.

What the three men have done, with their gay teammates in a gay league through weeks and months and years of practice, is show publicly their solidarity and support for the queer community and the right for queers to use public playing fields: a right won in places such as California and Washington by generations of queers who lived locked-out, shut-in lives.

A copy of the lawsuit is available on the National Center for Lesbian Rights Web site (www.nclrights.org) for those who want to know the particulars of the allegations, the points of law cited and the damages and relief sought (including a $75,000 minimum per plaintiff, a minimal threshold for filing; and an end to the NAGAAA rule limiting participation of heterosexuals). NAGAAA's public responses so far have been in the form of a letter sent to members a year ago after the filing of the suit and an interview Commissioner Roy Melani, who pitches for the Portland Brewers, gave to Seattle's the Stranger this month.

For the most part, the letter, available at http://www.rcsaopen.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/nagaaa-open-letter-to-members.pdf, cites NAGAAA's lengthy history of valuable service and sizeable membership (commendable if irrelevant) and notes that it is a cash-poor grassroots organization.

"One thing is clear," NAGAAA wrote, "if NCLR is successful, the enormous monetary damages they seek will put our very existence in jeopardy."

That statement assumes Coughenour's court awards the total $225,000. Indeed, a $1 million settlement ordered by Coughenour against the Cult Awareness Network for violating civil rights as part of its "de-programming" efforts is considered to be what forced that group into bankruptcy, where it was bought by members of an organization it had strongly opposed, the Church of Scientology.

That decision not withstanding, Coughenour has a reputation of leniency and sense of fair play in making award findings. And though it may be a damned nuisance to the association, how much is a person's right to self-expression and self-identity worth?

The plaintiffs cite waves of depression, anger, and humiliation they suffered as a result of the inquisition; these are referred to in NAGAAA's letter as "emotional distress, etc." Thirty-some years after having to answer similar intimate questions from an Air Force investigator beginning the process of throwing my then-lover out of the service, I know my anger still burns with a fire a few thousand could not quench. It is never just "etc."

In his interview, Melani cites instances of homophobic language from opponents and officials when his team plays straight teams. And in the letter, NAGAAA writes, "Our group recognizes that in the arena of team sports, homophobia is still all too common. Almost daily it seems, one hears or reads of another gay bashing, often resulting in fatal outcomes. These tragedies serve as a reminder of our mission to provide a safe place for gay/lesbian players to enjoy competition while not compromising their true identity."

Hold your horses, Roy Rogers: let's talk about that.

The two most peaceful mechanisms we have on the playing field to fight homophobia and gain acceptance are the very same anti-discrimination laws the NAGAAA rule flouts, and the social interaction the NAGAAA rule would restrict. Yes, it may have been satisfying for Melani and his teammates to win their games against their hetero opponents, but did they then take the next step of filing protests with park and league authorities? No, it's not fun, but it's what you do to maintain what you have.

Dig through the anti-discrimination laws in Washington and they boil down to protection against discrimination based on perceived sexual "identity" or "expression."

Perceived expression and identity is the very basis on which NAGAAA tossed the players: not for homophobia or intimidation or harassment (non-existent in this instance), but because a panel's gaydar didn't go rocketing for three men who were proud to play under a gay event label with their gay brethren.

We can do one of two things: we can have isolated ghettos and worship the walls that hem us in or we can tear the friggin' walls down and embrace all of our diversity. Not just the diversity we are most comfortable with or identify with â€" all of it. NAGAAA's archaic rule would have us do the former, but progress demands the latter.

Speaking of which, I presented a workshop on "Empowerment through Inclusive Sports" at the inaugural GSA-initiated Bay Area Youth Summit in San Mateo last weekend. I was fully prepped to answer every question any LGBT youth tossed my way. And then an eager young straight girl asked me, "How can I encourage more gay kids to come out for sports at my school?"

Well, I thought, you don't start with a rule limiting how many of them can play.

We've come a long way, baby, to win the right and the respect to compete on public playing fields across the country. But that's not the right to say, "Go away, you're not welcome." It's the right to say, "Come in, friend, and join us."

Same-sex dance nationals

The ninth annual April Follies Same-Sex Dancesport Classic will be held Saturday, April 30 at Just Dance Ballroom in Oakland. The event will serve as North American Same-Sex Partner Dance Association's inaugural national championship for ballroom dancing.

Competition among the top dancers from Canada, Mexico, and the United States will include beginning, intermediate, and veteran couples and pro-am pairs in various international and American style ballroom events, as well as social dance styles including country and western, swing, salsa, and Argentine tango, as well as formation teams.

Tickets are $15 for daytime events only; $25 for evening only; or $35 for the entire day. Information is available at www.aprilfollies.com.

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