Texas' First Gay Basketball League Provides a Safe Place to Play
Last May, Jason Collins – a 12-year veteran of the NBA – made history when he penned an editorial in Sport Illustrated revealing he was gay. "I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport," he wrote. "But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation."
The issue of homosexuality in sports has certainly become a topic of discussion, from the politics of the Sochi Olympics to NFL hopeful Michael Sam coming out as gay. But many athletes feel there is still a long way to go before gay players are fully welcomed into sports.
Enter the Austin Gay Basketball League (AGBL). Founded in February 2010, the AGBL is the only gay-affiliated league in the state of Texas. Organizers say they wanted to create an athletic environment free of discrimination.
"That sort of comfort is important," player and civil rights attorney Wayne Krause Yang tells Texas Standard's David Brown. "Just the fact that Jason Collins has to make an announcement … shows you that an area of comfort and safety for people of all orientations, and an open minded place to play ball, is a great place to have."
Kris Kirchner, now a coach for the AGBL, describes how different it was when she was coming up in her basketball career. Kirchner was an All-American for the University of Maryland in the late 1970's, and a player on the women's Olympic team in the early 1980's. "It had a lot to do with the era we were in, and just the beginning of women's sports, and looking at the professional aspects of it," she says. "So it was not a discussion that was really had. You were definitely in the closet, and you did it willingly. "
But as more professional athletes come out, and leagues like the AGBL exist, Yang thinks the acceptance of gays in sports could be a debate of the past. "For the time being, I don't think we are there yet," he says. "I'm really happy that we have a league that can be open-minded, and a welcoming space for people to play. Maybe there will come a time where there is just basketball, and not gay basketball, but for the time being, it's lots of fun."