I know I just posted a piece about the Charlotte Checkers involvement with You Can Play, but there’s so much more to be shared, especially my own personal perspective of why it’s such an important and powerful organization. Chasing Checkers doesn’t always fit into a typical sports blog mold, so I figure I’ll continue to go against the grain even more by expanding on the You Can Play story, and how it impacts me personally.
Human rights and equality is something I believe in very strongly. I work in the arts, which is a field that tends to be more open minded than mainstream sports when it comes to LGBT issues, so for my entire career, and as long ago as high school when I was just learning how to do my craft, I’ve worked with many LGBT artists, musicians, dancers and technicians.
I remember the anti-gay protests in Charlotte while I was in college in response to Charlotte Repertory Theatre’s production of Angels in America. My best friend attended college for a brief time with Matthew Shepard, and in my work and personal life, I’ve had countless friends who have been faced with hateful groups and individual who attempt to violate their most basic human rights just because they are gay.
In 1998, Matthew Shepard, who had been targeted for being gay, was kidnapped, brutally attacked in Laramie, Wyoming, tied to a fence post, and left to die. He passed away a few days later due to head injuries sustained during the attack. It was at Matthew’s funeral that the Westboro Baptist “Church” became famous for their hate-filled protest signs and banners. Nearly a decade later, I watched the very same Westboro “church” protest the Lutheran church my father was a pastor of, and was reminded once again what a dreadful organization WBC is, and how important it is for others to counteract their evil in a positive way, and that’s what I think You Can Play is doing.
Shepard’s story has led to brilliant plays and films about his life and, and has given a voice to those who have been the victims of hate crimes. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed a bill into law that expanded 1969 hate crime legislation to include crimes motivated by a person’s sexual orientation, gender, or disability. The bill is named in Shepard’s memory, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Because of the impact of people like Matthew Shepard, and organizations like You Can Play, the world is becoming a better place. It’s becoming more welcoming and more equal for everyone. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I’m confident You Can Play is helping society move in the right direction.
Nearly two weeks ago, Jason Collins was a groundbreaker in the world of professional sports. As an NBA player, he is the first active athlete in a major American sport to come out as gay. He wore number 98 for the Boston Celtics last season in honor of Matthew Shepard. And I applaud him. In a world where homophobia, racism and sexism are still rampant, I know it took a lot of courage to do what Collins did, and I hope his message will help others struggling with a similar decision. I hope that the message of Collins and You Can Play will continue to decrease the homophobic jeers in sports stadiums, and make athletics more welcoming to all people, gay or straight.
I’ve been name called by religious folk who believe my own salvation is at risk for supporting my LGBT friends. I’ve been the victim of harassment in the workplace and in the sports arena for voicing my support of my gay friends. But I will continue to stand with my friends, my coworkers, athletes like Jason Collins, and the potentially tens of thousands of athletes who haven’t yet found the courage to come out as gay. I hope that You Can Play will continue to give courage to others, and spread their powerful message of equality to all who can hear it.
So to the Charlotte Checkers, again, I thank you. I thank you for being the FIRST professional sports team in North Carolina to align yourselves with You Can Play. With legislation such as last year’s “Amendment One,” North Carolina isn’t an easy state to live in when it comes equal rights for all people, gay, straight or otherwise, so it makes me incredibly proud that the Checkers took a step to do the right thing.