After losing their third straight home game, the San Antonio Stars had just 24 hours to rest before hitting the court for the second consecutive night.
However, center Jayne Appel took time after the tough loss to tell a group of fans why LGBT rights are important to herself, San Antonio.
While at Stanford University, Appel realized that coming out could still be frightening and difficult after a college roommate came out to her. From that point on, she vowed to be a voice for people who might be struggling with the decision.
Last month, the league announced its new campaign called ‘WNBA Pride,’ an effort to reach out to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
“I do think it’s a smart strategy,” Appel said. “I think when you look at who is in our crowds a lot, and at the amount of money the LGBT community spends on the WNBA, it’s a substantial amount.”
WNBA president Laurel Richie is happy to see the league marketing to the LGBT community, but says its not something ‘new’ like some thing it is.
“I think some people have characterized this incorrectly as a 100 percent, brand-new initiative, and that’s just not true,” Richie said. “We have been doing marketing and outreach to this community for years. Whether that’s through advertising, Pride nights, participation in local Pride parades or other things.”
The campaign has gotten more publicity and seems to have great feedback from players and coaches around the league.
“We are excited about it,” Stars guard Danielle Robinson said. “I think it definitely puts a message out there and lets us have a statement that we’re going to support everybody. And I think it’s huge with our fan base.”
In San Antonio, some of the Stars’ LGBT fans told espnW that they feel the team is not fully comfortable in openly acknowledging them.
“I hate to say this, but I think the gay community is just used to being treated like that,” one Stars season-ticket holder, Lori said. “In some ways, it’s a slap in the face, but I don’t think most of us have demanded anything different.”
Her partner Tina added: “But we believe in the league and supporting women. Women athletes are always treated like second-class citizens, and we want do what we can to help that.”
Appel is fully aware of this fact. She is also an ambassador for a group called Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization encourages straight athletes to take a stand against homophobia in sports.
Hudson Taylor, the founder of Athlete Ally, and Appel had a postgame discussion with fans at the AT&T Center after a recent Stars game. The meeting was attended by 40 fans who were grateful to express their opinions on the issues concerning them. Appel was asked by espnW if she was bothered that none of her teammates — some of whom are gay — came to the meeting.
“The opportunity is there,” Appel said. “And I think it’s really important for players — like Brittney Griner has — to say, ‘Hey, it’s OK to talk about being gay.’
“But by the same token, I respect my teammates if they’re not comfortable putting themselves out there. I don’t want to push them into it. I want them to take the initiative.”
Last year, there was some anger in the Alamo City over the issue of gay rights. Stars veteran Sophia Young tweeted for the first time in months to say she opposes same-sex marriage.
Young’s tweets were responding to a bill the San Antonio city council was then considering. However, the bill actually was not about same-sex marriage. It was in regard to offering protection against discrimination for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Appel said the Stars had a team meeting while on the road and discussed what Young had tweeted. She admitted that things were uncomfortable when the team got together for the first time after those tweets were sent. A group decision was made to focus on basketball from that point on.
“I’m of the opinion that everyone needs to be treated with dignity,” said Stars veteran guard Becky Hammon. As a teammate, I think there’s a certain code of conduct you have, and it’s always about thinking of other people. Teams are a microcosm of society. You may have people at your job that you may not agree with on every issue, but you find a way to work together on your common goals.”
Since then, Young has gotten married and now goes by the name Young-Malcolm. As of now, she has not commented on the Twitter issue or the WNBA Pride campaign.
During a recent game against the Seattle Storm, several Stars players wore “rainbow” themed shoes. However, there was no specific announcement that it was “Pride” night. Stars season ticket holders want to see the team reach out more to the LGBT community and that is what the Pride campaign is trying to do.
With Appel’s help, it seems the Stars are slowly working towards the goal of making it happen.
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