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    Straight Plays Gay in and Around San Francisco

    johnsportsEven today, more often than not, we read and hear about LGBT people being physically harmed, blatantly discriminated against and religiously condemned by those who fear and don’t understand us. The injustice helps to fuel our collective fire and courage to fight for equal rights, treatment and respect as fellow human beings. I’d like to take this opportunity to bring light to how local gay sports positively break down negative stereotypes of LGBT people, and help our straight counterparts to understand that we are not so different from them after all.

    For the past eight months I’ve covered numerous gay sports teams, leagues and organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area on the fields and on the courts, in the pools and in the rinks. For each sport, I’ve interviewed several non LGBT players, competitors and members. In each interview, I learned that through their participation in gay sports, straight players gained deeper understandings of LGBT people: who we really are and our struggles. We share with them similar humanly goals, dreams and desires, such as wanting happiness, wanting to compete and hopefully win, wanting to be loved, and wanting to be accepted.

    Michele Cervantes, a straight member of Spike’s Soccer Club, described what he learned playing alongside a team of gay men: “[They] took great risks to be true to themselves and who they want to be. It takes great courage and inner strength to go against the grain and weather blatant discrimination and behind the back whispers.” For these reasons, Michele has great respect for gay men and women, as well as for the struggles of the LGBT community.

    Straight, married and with children, Sean Moore didn’t know what to expect when he first started playing football in the San Francisco Gay Flag Football League, but he knew he loved to play football. Halfway through his first season, Sean excitedly invited many of his “bros” to come watch him play, citing how competitive and fun the gay league is and how skilled and athletic many of the LGBT players are. To Sean it’s not about gay or straight; it’s about playing football with quality people.

    With an ice hockey pedigree, Dan Hagerty didn’t even know the team he competed on (Goaldiggers) was a predominately LGBT team because his teammates were tough, physical, hard nose players. Dan was also impressed by how organized and cohesive the team was off the ice, something that was often lacking in his previous teams. “No way!” Dan remembered saying, the day he found out that he was on a gay team. Dan chuckled when his teammates asked him how in the world he had not noticed the bright pink skate laces.

    As a straight coach for Tsunami Water Polo Club, Jon Wiener wasn’t sure if the players would accept a non-LGBT coach or if the team even wanted a straight coach. Jon said, “I was a bit unsure at first, but I soon learned the club was extremely welcoming, no matter my background. I learned that the gay community is very accepting of people because they understand what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.” Today, Jon has a co-coach: his best friend Erik Koland, who is also straight. Erik intimated the main difference between his past straight teams and his current gay team is that, for Tsunami, winning is not the only goal. Players truly want to learn and improve their skills, foster a positive and healthy competitive environment, and, of course, socialize.

    Brian Bussiere (known for his big, bushy red beard) and his wife Jessica have been playing softball in the San Francisco Gay Softball League for the past four years. The number one thing Brian noticed playing in a gay league is the camaraderie and the support the teams and players have for one another. “Together, the LGBT community is strong and proud,” he said. Brian also noted that many straight people don’t know how to handle being viewed as sex objects by gays. But that certainly is not the case for Brian and Jessica. In fact, you can find this happy-go-lucky couple at the Lone Star and a few un-named street fairs dressed in a thong and corset, (I am going to let you conclude who wears the thong and who wears the corset) educating people about acceptance and fundraising for their respective gay teams. Along the way, Brian relishes all of the amazing hugs he gets from men and women alike.

    My good friend Matt Flora, a former collegiate volleyball player, is no stranger to the LGBT community, considering that his former competitive club volleyball coaches were gay. Matt respected his gay coaches like any other and responded with, “Yes sir.” Now, at the ripe old age of let’s say 30, (I think Matt would kill me if I documented his true age, as for most aging gay men I know) Matt plays on gay teams mainly for fun and entertainment. He explained, “There is never a dull moment in gay sports. The pageantries are over the top spectacular, and not a game goes by without some sort of diva award-winning performance.”

    You see, through sports our straight friends have learned a lot about us. We are strong, tough, courageous, every bit of an athlete, fun, social, playful, huggable, entertaining, welcoming and accepting. (OK, I may have accidentally omitted dramatic.) In the process, many of them have become our biggest fans, supporters, allies and advocates. It is with great hope that in our long march towards equality, acceptance and respect, we remember to stop and thank, and hug, those straight friends marching along our sides.

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball and football teams.