LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Almost one in three of the women playing in the WNBA’s annual All-Star Game in Minnesota on Saturday come from the gay community, scoring a slam dunk for diversity in U.S. sport.
With seven openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) players, the exhibition match is likely to inspire young people and encourage tolerance among fans, experts said.
“Sport shows us what’s possible,” Claire Harvey, a Paralympian and chief executive of Diversity Role Models, which seeks to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying in British schools, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“If every sports star talked about the importance of inclusion and being kind to each other, I think the dial would move,” she said in emailed comments.
The women’s professional basketball league rarely misses a shot as a pioneer of LGBT rights, regularly celebrating LGBT Pride Month by taking part in the New York parade and hosting Pride-themed games and events to encourage inclusivity.
High profile openly LGBT players taking part on Saturday include Brittney Griner, who has written a book about the bullying she endured growing up gay, and Seimone Augustus, who has spoken out in favor of same-sex marriage.
The WNBA contrasts starkly with men’s sport, where in 2013 the NBA’s Jason Collins became the first male athlete active in a major U.S. team sport to reveal he was gay. He is now retired.
LGBT rights have come under the spotlight in the United States under President Donald Trump. The Supreme Court has shifted to the right following the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.
The only openly gay male athlete currently competing in a major professional American sports league is Minnesota United midfielder Collin Martin, 23, who came out last month.
“Many men’s sports continue to struggle with issues of toxic masculinity ... Anything outside of a very narrow definition of what it means to be a man is looked down upon,” said Taylor Carr of Athlete Ally, which promotes LGBT rights in U.S. sport.
“This often silences and isolates LGBTQ people in sport,” said Carr, Chief of Staff for the campaign group, which has created an index that ranks college athletic associations for their inclusiveness of LGBT students.
The NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game out of North Carolina because of a law requiring transgender people to use restrooms in public buildings and schools that match the sex on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity.
Reporting by Madeleine Drury; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.