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Gay women in British basketball

The spectre of homophobia still stops lesbians coming out

Gemma Rose

Thu, 13 Dec 2012 15:35:36 GMT | Updated 4 years today

Women's basketball. Lots of sweat, contact, triple threats, free throws, hang time, and well, girls. However, despite a slight boost in the 90s, British basketball has never really received the recognition it deserves; in both the men and women's game.


To most, basketball reminds them of two things: Michael Jordan and Space Jam. Two more words: Lola Bunny. (That's her in the pic.) Despite being a cartoon - she made basketball sexy! She made fast breaks down that court and slam dunked just as good, if not better than Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd combined. But, what about real women in basketball? Although basketball is relatively under the radar in the UK, there is a huge amount of female players and yes, just like anywhere there are lesbians among them.


There's no ignoring that there is a massive stereotyping of women in sports regarding their sexuality. However, this doesn't mean that all gay women athletes feel able to be open about it. To me, a basketball player is a basketball player and their talent, opportunities and passion for the game should not be jeopardised because of whom they'd rather sleep with.


Let's bounce pass back to 2009 and remember the film documentary Training Rules. "No drinking, no drugs, no lesbians" was the slogan. The film brings to life the story of US college basketball coach Rene Portland who had a 'zero tolerance' policy to having lesbians on her team. In 1986, she said: "I will not have it in my programme. I bring it up and the kids are so relieved, and the parents are so relieved."


Finally, in 2006, former player Jennifer Harris took action alongside the National Center for Lesbians after being kicked off the squad because Portland believed she was gay. They fought for Rene's dismissal because of her "decades-long policy of harassing players whom Coach Portland believed to be lesbians." Rene Portland resigned in 2007 after 27 years as coach.


I suppose that counts as one battle won, but that doesn't mean the war is over. Not even close. Some players today still feel they cannot reveal their sexuality to the world.


Amy* has been with her partner Jenny* for seven years and both play basketball for one of the top teams in the English Basketball League. Amy says: "There are a lot of gay women in basketball, but when you're trying to make it, coming out is the worst thing you can do. It's all about people's perceptions and I don't want to be judged because of my sexuality.


"When Jenny went to play abroad, it came out that she was gay and no one said anything because she was the best player on the team, but if she had just been average she worries that people would tease her and have something to use against her.


"I personally keep my sexuality quiet at work because I don't want to be known as 'the gay director' and I deal internationally with Arab countries where being gay is illegal and I would hate to lose business over it."


It's a real shame that some women still don't feel that they can be 100% comfortable with their sexuality and that it would be damaging personally or professionally for them to be so open. The case of Rene Portland was progress for the LGBT community, especially within sport, but it is apparent that this one may go into overtime.



For more information about Women's basketball in the UK, follow these links:

Paralympic basketball on C4


* Names have been changed.


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