By Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
LGBTs in the News with Thom Senzee once again approached a necessary conversation on discrimination and bullying in sports at the Gossip Grill on April 25.
With an all-star panel, discussion ranged from transgender persons in sports, locker room talk, stereotypes, and what things that can be done to change the normalized culture in both major league, minor league and high school sports.
Panelists for this discussion included San Diegan Sam Moehlig, gymnast and youth trans activist; Brock McGillis, former Ontario Hockey League and professional hockey player; Maya Reddy, pro golfer, ambassador for Athlete Ally, founder of The Gaysian Project; and a surprise return of Matt Savant, president of Business Operations for the San Diego Gulls. Senzee, founder of LGBTs in the News, moderated “Spectator of Star Player: We Can All Help End Bullying in Sports,” engaged panelists with some opening questions, and then took questions from the audience both on site and online.
Sam Moehlig is a gymnast who has always loved extreme sports and pushing his body strength. In gymnastics, his favorite is the still rings and anything that has him up in the air. He said that, while growing up in gymnastics, the perception of the sport in general is connected with femininity.
“My sport is not taken very seriously. For example, there are only 10 schools left in the United States that have men’s gymnastics programs,” Moehlig said. “They are being shut down because so many male gymnasts are too afraid to go into it as a high school or college student in fear of being called gay or being seen as females.”
Moehlig pointed out that trans women in sports are seen on their physical ability, whereas trans males are more focused on by their identity.
“For the girls, I wouldn’t say they have somewhat of an advantage, but I still say, they are a girl,” Moehlig said. “If you are a girl, you should be on a girl’s team, if you are a boy, you should be on a boy’s team.”
Moehlig said that he was home-schooled, which probably had an effect on the amount of bullying that he was subjected to, but he said on a team, the negative culture is still there and needs to be addressed.
“I feel like my teammates are the ones that should have my back and are defending me against the people that are bullying me,” Moehlig said. “And when people are teasing me, they should be the ones defending me. I need you and if you are not there, how are we going to be teammates and how am I going to be able to trust you?”
Brock McGillis is the world’s first professional hockey player to come out and the only male in hockey to ever come out publicly. In response to Moehlig and his family feeling that he was better off being home-schooled, McGillis said that it is a shame that a trans person should ever feel uncomfortable going to a public school. He also believes that a lot of the culture that prevents trans athletes from attending schools is perpetuated in the locker rooms of sports.
“In male team sport culture. I think you can tease each other,” McGillis said. “Like in ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ the reading [publicly pointing out a flaw in someone else] challenge is popular. In hockey, we call it chirping. But, I don’t want to hear anything racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic. Those things are off limits.”
McGillis said that there has always been a code in hockey that you never talk about a person’s family.
“If that is off limits, then it should be off limits to chirp about someone’s sexuality or feminizing them as a way to put them down,” McGillis continued. “We are all equal. There are strong men and weak men. There are strong women and weak women. It is irrelevant. This is 1960s stuff. This is pre-Stonewall stuff. That’s not boys being boys, that’s people being jerks. You can have banter with your friends without being a jerk. You can do that in sports, you can do that in school, you can do that at work and other places. We just have to do a better job at educating people what is OK and what isn’t. They need to know why it hurts them and how it hurts them.”
Ladies Professional Golf Association (LGPA) Symetra Tour golfer Maya Reddy said that when it comes to locker room talk and teasing, good humor comes from being respectful to another person.
“I feel like it is really easy [refraining from negative locker room talk], but don’t be a shitty person,” Reddy said. “It’s the lazy route to just make fun of somebody. You can still be funny and have fun with your friends and make jokes that come from a state of lovingness, being kind and being respectful. That’s what needs to change. Locker room talk shouldn’t be a crutch for people that are assholes to excuse their behavior.”
McGillis said in female sports, a lot of them are presumed to be lesbians until proven straight.
“And then they hyper-feminize themselves to the point to the extreme to say, ‘Hey, I’m a woman,’” McGillis said. “I’ll see a female hockey game and the females are wearing mascara on the ice. They intentionally have long hair, wear mascara so that they are not automatically presumed to be lesbian.”
San Diego Gulls’ Matt Savant grew up playing hockey and said Brock’s statements were “dead on.”
“I played hockey as a kid, all three of my sons play hockey and my son, I’m coaching his team,” Savant said. “I hear 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old boys using really negative language, like ‘You play like a girl, you shoot like a girl,’ and that’s a negative connotation. This is something that needs to be addressed, and in my opinion, not any of the major sports are taking a real strong approach to addressing it.”
Savant said it really boils down to respect.
“Not everyone acts the same, looks the same and having open communication is the beginning of the conversation to these problems we face in sports,” Savant said. “When people are talking or joking with me, there is an element of truth in everything that you say. Having open communication and accepting people and their differences and their ability to perform at a different level doesn’t mean that they are a lesser person.”
McGillis grew up in the hockey world, moving away from home at the age of 15 and called that young culture a “bubble” because he was constantly with his teammates five to seven days a week; they were his friends, and in many ways his family.
“That world was somewhat, and still can be, homophobic,” McGillis said. “Not necessarily because people hate the LGBTQ+ community, but in the sense of the language that they use. Because of that, I felt very uncomfortable, I felt afraid that I couldn’t be myself and still be a hockey player.”
McGillis said not coming out had to do a lot with the hypermasculinity of the sport.
“It’s a very tough, rugged sport and you are expected to adhere to that. Because of that, the language that is used in locker rooms … and the language that you are constantly around, they use a lot of homo-negative language,” McGillis said. “They are constantly putting each other down by feminizing one another or using homo-negative words to say that you are less adept. I think that there is a presumption that if you are gay, that you are feminine and that you wouldn’t be tough enough to play this sport.”
Reddy said that she thinks it has to do with the hypermasculinity in male sports, but that women’s sports are not exempt from that, especially in the world of golf.
“The majority of our viewers and spectators are men,” Reddy said. “In order for women’s golf to gain traction, there is such a heavy emphasis on how we get that male viewership. That kind of structures women’s golf to be geared toward what guys are going to like, essentially positioning female athletes as objects of desire to watch. That puts a lot of undue pressure on us to present ourselves in a specific way in order to get sponsorship. Being a queer athlete is a negative and we are all running away from that as far as possible.”
McGillis said in hockey, if other players are associated with him, they face the question, “Are you gay?” He said that is constantly the case whether you are male or female. He said overall, sports is entertainment and when you play sports, you are looking for viewership. But he said that he believes that there are so many things in the world that matter more than sports.
“I believe the statistic is 43% of trans persons who commit suicide,” McGillis said. “I had a trans man reach out to me last week, 15 or 16, who started body building as a way to stop cutting himself. If that is an outlet that he can have and allows him to live, and be a happy man in this world, then why would we prevent that? Sports is beautiful and wonderful and gives us so much. But that person deserves to love their sport. They deserve the same rights as the rest of us. There are so many bigger things in the world and people have to stop looking with such narrow minds.”
To learn more about the national panel discussions with LGBTs in The News with Thom Senzee, visit lgbtsinthenews.com.
Sponsors of the “Spectator or Star Player: We Can All Help End Bullying in Sports”: SAG-AFTRA LGBTQ Committee; You Can Play; Dr. Bronner’s; San Diego Press Club; San Diego Gulls; MO’s Universe | insideOUT; San Diego Diplomacy Council; Top of the Bay | Porto Vista Hotel; Lafayette Hotel; Trans Family Support Services.
— Albert Fulcher can be reached at email@example.com.
(Graphic by www.CanStockPhoto.com)