On May 8th in Chicago, the Chicago City Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution presented by The Last Closet and the Human Relations Committee of the Chicago City Council that encourages four commissioners of major men's sports leagues to state (on camera) their support for their gay players, that they will invite them to come out, and will take all action necessary to ensure their safety. Sean Coyne (Bucknell Track, Class of '10) was present to speak on behalf of GO! Athletes.
As I walked into Chicago City Hall (that is of course after getting lost), I was a little nervous. I had never testified at anything before. When I walked in the very impressive room where we were to give our testimony, there were quite a few people sitting in the rows of chairs provided. I didn’t recognize anyone, not that I was really expecting to. I also noticed that I was significantly younger than everyone else in the room, which made me feel further intimidated. Thankfully everyone was very friendly and the group I sat near included me in their conversation almost immediately. The group included Steve Gilberg and Ruth Giles-Ott from the Chicago Masters level swim team, the Smelts, as well as Tom Elliot from the Center on Halsted, Chicago’s LGBTQ Community Center. We were all simply getting to know each other with the usual small talk of which organization we were representing and what we did professionally (a conversation I usually try to avoid since it always involves a long digression about my work with wild primates which, while fun, is almost never relevant to the actual purpose of the day). After a few minutes I had the pleasure to meet Fawn Yacker, who had organized the entire events of the day, and an amazing woman. She was so friendly and genuinely happy to meet me, which is reassuring for a young graduate student who was already nervous about testifying in front of a bunch of professionals and politicians. Her confidence and excitement about the proceedings was infectious and after just a brief conversation with her I felt ready to represent GO! Athletes at the proceedings.
When Alderman Moore called the proceedings to order, the Alderman of the HRC Subcommittee all greeted us with some words of why they were a co-sponsor or supporter of the proposed resolution and what it meant personally to them, which was a great way to set the stage for all of us community members to do the same. Fawn was the first to testify and, after a beautifully articulated speech about the importance of supporting out professional athletes and fostering an athletic community of support and acceptance, she brought us a video clip made by Cyd Zigler of Outsports. Then each of the various community members that Fawn had brought together to testify went in turn to say what we each had to say. What was so wonderful about the group assembled is that it was as diverse as it could be, there were gays and lesbians, transgender individuals, and even straight allies. We had people who were professional athletes like Fallon Fox, former athletes, such as Vincent Pryor, a professional sports writer, Christina Kahrl, LGBTQ advocates from GLAAD, community leaders from the Center on Halsted and PFLAG, local business owners, and delegates from the proposed LGBT Sports Hall of Fame. But as diverse of a group as we all were, and as different as all of our stories are, we all had one clear message that day: there is no place for homophobia in sports, and it is up to our leaders to publically create safety nets for their players and fans, so that all people from all walks of life can participate in and enjoy sports regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. After over an hour of positive testimony, with not a single testimony against the proposed resolution, the HRC Subcommittee voted to bring the resolution in front of the entire City Council the following day. And although all of us who testified were scattered back to wherever we came from, I believe that we were all ecstatic, though probably not surprised, to hear the news that Chicago City Council voted unanimously to pass the resolution. In doing so the Second City became the second city (after San Francisco) to pass the following resolution:
“This resolution encourages the Commissioners from major sports leagues - Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Soccer - to state, on camera, that they support their gay players, will invite them to come out, and will take all action necessary to ensure their safety.
I am not the best writer in the world, so I find it difficult to describe how absolutely awesome it was to know that I helped, in however a small way, to pass this resolution. In doing so, hopefully help pave the way to break down the barrier still erected against LGBT athletes in professional sports. Someday soon, I hope, we won’t need resolutions like this, but until that day, I look forward to hearing about Fawn’s work in other cities and hope that they follow in Chicago’s footsteps at taking a stance in supporting our professional LGBT athletes.
Congratulations again to The Last Closet and the Chicago City Council. Chicago is the second city to declare it's backing for LGBT athletes (following San Francisco in October 2012).