Posted by: Ethan Johnson | April 27, 2010

The Bigger Picture

I have been making time lately to check out the Title IX blog, and clicking the links on their sidebar. Today I clicked a link that turned me on to the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and ultimately a press release titled “NCLR Files Suit Challenging Discriminatory Athletic Policy“.

While this may not seem particularly noteworthy at a glance, I did a double-take when I read the opening sentence:

(Seattle, WA, April 20, 2010) — Today, National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) clients and the law firm of K&L Gates LLP filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington challenging the discriminatory practices of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association (NAGAAA).

Wait, what?

Here is the gist of the suit:

The lawsuit alleges that NAGAAA violated Washington’s laws governing discrimination in public accommodations, and state consumer protections by implementing and enforcing a “two heterosexuals per team” cap during the 2008 Gay Softball World Series in Seattle, and also violated the plaintiff softball players’ rights by subjecting them to a series of invasive questions about their sexual orientation and private lives in front of more than 25 people, most of them strangers.

To be clear, as I am probably coming off as unintentionally cheeky, it surprised me to see one LGBT-themed organization suing another for discrimination. Upon reading the press release I have mixed emotions about it, namely that I agree with the NCLR’s decision to file suit but also empathize with the NAGAAA and their alleged discriminatory practices. To speak in neutral terms, if there was a club called the “Brothers of Old Lebanon” and I wasn’t actually from Lebanon and had no connection to the place whatsoever, not only would I most likely not seek to join the club but would not be shocked to be turned away for not meeting their base entry requirements.

Not being in possession of all of the facts, I will only assume that the NAGAAA cannot claim refuge as a private organization which opened the door for the pending suit.

My ultimate reason for writing about this, other than pointing to the NCLR’s stated mission of seeking equality for all LGBT people in the USA and being of the opinion that this lawsuit underscores and affirms that mission, is that it got me thinking in greater depth about my own mission.

To inspire, encourage, and empower the heroes of tomorrow.

I have said this before, perhaps not here, but to say it again, while the present focus of that mission is on women’s athletics, it is not solely concerned with women’s athletics. Nor is it concerned solely with women. It is fundamentally about people, and about civil rights.

I have no qualms about saying this openly and enthusiastically: I enjoy women’s athletics. I want to support as many female athletes, teams, schools, and organizations as possible. But as I considered this support from another angle, I saw that indeed, I cannot and must not confine that mission solely to women’s – or any athletics.

My thoughts turned to the rhetorical Outdoor Enthusiast. This person enjoys canoeing, hiking, birdwatching, catch-and-release fishing, and nature photography. Quite an active person! This enthusiast spends as much time out in “nature” as possible, while holding down an office job Monday through Friday. In short order, everyone who is a stranger to the enthusiast will come away knowing that this is a person that is all about “the great outdoors”!

But what, other than lack of time or money, are the challenges that the enthusiast of this sort might face in fully enjoying “nature”?

Pollution, lack of fish, over-development, noise, drought, and so on.

This enthusiast would soon realize that one cannot fully enjoy “nature”, or expect for that “nature” to persist for countless years of enjoyment and appreciation, if the challenges that threaten “nature” are not faced head-on. In less rhetorical terms, I have seen the shift in the (USA) fishing community to an attitude and culture of sustainability rather than one of selfish short-term satisfaction.

Thus, as this applies to me and my mission, presently it is necessary to indeed maintain a fairly narrow focus under the banner of “doing the most immediate good”. I am a man of modest resources and cannot solely fund any single athlete, student, team, organization, and so on. But it is important to remain cognizant of the bigger picture.

That bigger picture is composed of many, many smaller ones.

This truth revealed itself in a quote from the NCLR’s aforementioned press release:

[“]The rationale that straight players should be limited on a team because they are better athletes is wrong, and it’s insulting to the many strong LGBT athletes of today. A player is a player.”

There is much work to be done.



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