Sports in transition

Proposed rule on determining gender could spell trouble for trans athletes and UIL; Olympics adopts progressive policy


Rafael McDonnell expressed concern with the UIL proposal.

JAMES RUSSELL  |  Staff Writer

Last October, the 32-member legislative council of the University Interscholastic League, the statewide body overseeing high school sports and other extracurricular activities, voted to send to member schools a rule declaring that a student’s gender would be determined by the gender marker on their birth certificate or other forms of identification.

When Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for Resource Center, heard about the rule change, he immediately e-mailed Charles Breithaupt, UIL’s executive director.

He told Breithaupt the proposed rule violates a 2014 determination by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights that under Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in any federally funded program, discrimination on the basis of gender identity is a form of sex discrimination.

McDonnell also noticed another problem: the rule changes did not add sexual orientation or gender identity to UIL’s nondiscrimination policy.

“By omitting these classes, UIL is further putting itself on shaky ground concerning Title IX, exposing the league to potential investigation, litigation and besmirching the good name and reputation of UIL in Texas and beyond,” McDonnell warned Breithaupt.

McDonnell even offered to arrange a meeting to discuss the changes.

But in a Nov. 5 response, Breithaupt defended the proposed policy. And he declined to meet with McDonnell.

“The UIL appreciates your concerns but respectfully disagrees that the UIL has made a ‘grave error.’ The UIL makes every effort, in both rule and practice, to provide fair and equitable competition in compliance with state and federal law. While I appreciate your desire to discuss this matter further, you clearly do not agree with the UIL’s passage of this proposal,” Breithaupt wrote.


Virginia student Gavin Grimm is fighting a similar policy in court.

Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Rights Program for Human Rights Watch, an international human rights advocacy group, also wrote Breithaupt with concerns.
In his Nov. 4 letter, Reid warned that ratifying the law would impose a “stricter standard” than other collegiate groups, including the National Collegiate Athletics Association and the International Olympic Committee.

On Nov. 2, just two days before Reid sent his letter, the Education Department ruled a Palestine, Ill. school district violated Title IX for refusing to allow a transgender girl on a girls’ sports team to use the girls’ locker room. If the district did not remedy the situation in 30 days, the Education Department warned, it would risk losing some or all of its Title IX funding.

Reid warned Breithaupt that passage of the proposed UIL rule could result in similar consequences for Texas school districts. “We urge the UIL to revisit the policy to ensure that every student’s gender identity is respected,” Reid added.

Ryan Thoreson, a fellow in Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights Program, said the organization has yet to receive a response from Breithaupt or any other UIL official.
Transgender student athletes are allowed to participate in sports in 15 different states. But the fight to acknowledge or affirm the rights of trans athletes is not confined to Texas.

The South Dakota House of Representatives passed a bill Jan. 27 that would prevent transgender students in public schools from using facilities consistent with their gender identity.

In Virginia, the fight’s now playing out in court.

On Jan. 27, the American Civil Liberties Union appeared before a federal appeals court arguing a Gloucester, Va. County School Board policy segregating transgender students from their peers by requiring them to use separate restroom facilities violates Title IX.

The lawyers representing Gavin Grimm, a transgender male, said the policy violates federal non-discrimination laws and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Last September, the district court ruled against Gavin and dismissed his Title IX claim, despite a brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice stating that, “there is public interest in ensuring that transgender students have the opportunity to learn in an environment free of sex discrimination.”

The district court ruling kept the policy in place and prevented Gavin from starting his junior year with access to the boys’ restroom, even though he has been living as a boy and taking hormone therapy.

The ACLU filed its appeal with the 4th Circuit last October.

“Ever since this battle with the school board began more than a year ago, I’ve been forced to confront ridicule and public insult from people who refuse to see me as a human, male student worthy of respect and equal treatment,” Grimm said. “But in spite of the humiliation I feel every time I’m forced to use the bathroom, I will continue to stand up for myself and other transgender students who shouldn’t be treated differently simply because of who they are.”

This is the first time that a federal court of appeals will consider the issue.

Different in the Olympics


Graeme Reid, head of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

Not every entity is restricting the rights of transgender athletes.

Just this month, on Sunday, Jan. 24, medical officials with the International Olympic Committee recommended transgender athletes be allowed to compete without gender reassignment surgery.
The committee last looked at the issue in 2003.

According to the new recommendations, female-to-male athletes will be able to participate in men’s competitions “without restriction.” Male-to-female athletes, however, will need to prove their testosterone levels have been below a certain level for the past year to be allowed to compete.

Societal changes and scientific research contributed to the changes, according to an IOC document.

“It is necessary to ensure insofar as possible that trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competition. The overriding sporting objective is and remains the guarantee of fair competition,” the document reads.

“To require surgical anatomical changes as a pre-condition to participation is not necessary to preserve fair competition and may be inconsistent with developing legislation and notions of human rights,” it noted.

The IOC’s recommendations closely follow Transgender Law and Policy Institute guidelines for policies related to transgender youth athletes.

The guidelines note scientific data shows little to no difference in hormonal levels between the sexes.

“Gender segregation in children’s sports is purely social. It is not based on any significant physiological differences. From a medical and physiological perspective, there is nothing about being transgender that gives any particular child a physical advantage over others,” according to institute’s guidelines.

Meanwhile back in Texas

According to Texas UIL spokeswoman Kate Hector, if the council does not pass a rule then the rule instead goes onto a ballot referendum.

While unable to speak to the specific rule change regarding trans student athletes, sometimes the council wants to get the feel of a majority of school district superintendents, she said.

This year, there are 11 different rules on the ballot. That’s because a committee appointed to review the association’s rules during the summer found that many of them needed clarification.

“The only other step is for the Texas Education Commissioner to approve its placement on the ballot,” Hector said.

Former commissioner Michael Williams, who stepped down Jan. 1, approved placement on the ballot referendum for the proposed rule regarding trans students.

Gov Greg Abbott appointed former Dallas school board trustee Mike Morath to replace him.

A superintendent gets one vote for every high school in his or her district. Ballots have been sent to member school districts and are due at the beginning of February.

The final decision comes down to superintendents’ vote.

If the proposed rule passes, McDonnell said, UIL would likely face lawsuits from LGBT advocacy groups.

“If UIL wants to see a lawsuit, [they will],” he predicted.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 29, 2016.

—  James Russell

TCU LGBT alumni group forms

Organizer says school has been helpful, supportive in forming group for gay graduates

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

There are some schools that are — or have been — affiliated with religious institutions that  not only wouldn’t welcome an LGBT alumni group, they would block such a group outright.

But when Doug Thompson, a graduate of Fort Worth’s Texas Christian University, associated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), approached his alma mater’s alumni association about forming an LGBT affiliate, he said, the response was, “Absolutely. No problem.”

TCU’s new LGBT alumni group will hold its first large meeting on Saturday, Oct. 22, after the TCU homecoming game. Thompson acknowledged that sports isn’t the main concern of many LGBT alumni, but homecoming is still a time when many alumni return to visit the campus.

Thompson said when he asked the alumni association whether the LGBT group would need approval by the school’s administration, he was told the administration would back it. The group was approved in April.

Unlike Baylor University, which sued to keep its LGBT alumni from using the school name to organize a group, Thompson said there has been no objection from the TCU campus.

“We just want to get people involved however they want to be involved,” Kristi Hoban, associate vice chancellor alumni of relations, said. “We just reach out, whether it’s a class or the business school or a special interest group.”

She said that black alumni were not participating until the Black Alumni Alliance formed about 11 years ago. Now, she said, they’re active leaders in class reunions, homecoming and department alumni events, adding that she hopes to see the same thing happen with the LGBT network.

Finding LGBT alumni hasn’t been easy, Thompson said, as students aren’t asked about their sexual orientation before they graduate.

But Thompson said about 120 alumni have already responded, mostly to calls on social media sites. And now that the school has a Gay Straight Alliance, he said, finding future alumni will be easier.

“Our goal will be to support gay and lesbian students and start a scholarship,” Thompson said. “And we’ll form activities around things gay alumni have an interest in.”

He mentioned support for the Trinity Shakespeare Festival on campus as a direction for the group.

Thompson said that having an LGBT alumni group will help the school provide a better environment for its LGBT students.

Two years ago, TCU proposed setting aside dorm space for LGBT students. A week after the announcement, when only eight students had signed up for the housing, the school scrapped those plans.

“That got totally blown out of proportion,” Hoban said.

She said the intention was never segregated housing but really just an LGBT campus group.
Thompson said the school would have avoided the bad publicity if it had the alumni group to guide them.

The LGBT alumni group will get together after the homecoming game against New Mexico on Saturday, Oct. 22. They will meet at Tommy’s Hamburgers’ Camp Bowie Boulevard location from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.




Victor Pryor

Perhaps one of the best known Texas Christian University grads that will be attending the new LGBT alumni group’s meeting this weekend is Vincent Pryor, a TCU Horned Frogs football star from 1994.

That year, before the final game of the season against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Pryor came out to his teammates. Rather than shunning him, Pryor’s coach told him he was proud of his honesty

“My teammates and my coaches overwhelmingly supported and accepted me,” Pryor writes on his website, “All of the fears and concerns I had about being kicked off the team, or losing my scholarship, or embarrassing my school — none of that happened.  And the best part of it was that I became a better athlete after I came out.”

That day, Pryor had the biggest game of his college career, tallying a record 4.5 sacks — a record that still stands today. His performance helped TCU win the conference title and a berth in a post-season bowl game.

Today, Pryor works in sales and lives in Chicago with his partner of 12 years, who was a classmate at TCU. To watch his just-
released an “It Gets Better” video, below.

—  Kevin Thomas

Ex-TCU linebacker Vincent Pryor came out as gay to teammates before setting sack record in 1994

Seventeen years after setting a school sack record during a landmark victory over Texas Tech, ex-TCU linebacker Vincent Pryor has revealed that he came out as gay to his teammates before the game:

“I knew that at the end of this game I was going to be free. I can be who I am. I am a gay athlete who just so happens to play football. I had no regrets. Everyone knows I’m gay. … I was just at peace with myself.”

“He was a beast” on the field, said Marcus Allen, Pryor’s teammate and the team’s middle linebacker. “I do believe that once he came out of the closet, he did feel relieved. You did notice something different about him. He was always happy, he felt good about himself, he felt like didn’t have anything to hide.”

Pryor’s 4 ½ sacks still stand in the TCU record book (he shares it with David Spradlin from 1987) as do his 34 sack yards. But that’s not why Pryor’s story is worth telling. Rather, it’s his journey of acceptance as an openly gay man and athlete in our most macho sport.

Pryor now lives in Chicago with his partner, whom he met at TCU but didn’t start dating until four years after they graduated. Read the full story from Jim Buzinski at OutSports here. And watch Pryor’s video for the “It Gets Better” project below.

—  Rich Lopez

Spinning his wheels?

Gay racer Evan Darling needs major sponsors to keep his motor running

mikey rox  |

REVVED UP | As NASCAR’s only out racer, Evan Darling stands out — but still can’t nab a sponsor.

Professional racecar driver Evan Darling is at a crossroads in his career: His engine is revved, but he’s running out of gas.

“The LGBT community has been very supportive and happy to see me doing what I am for the community — just not financially,” says the 42-year-old openly gay NASCAR athlete.

A lack of sponsorship may force the adrenaline junkie to trade in his fire suit for a grease monkey’s jumpsuit sooner than later.

“Things are not looking good for next season and I may have to go back to being a mechanic,” admits Darling, who competes in NASCAR’s Grand Am series. “I have had many say I would not get support, and I would hate to prove them right. I will always put effort into trying to get sponsors and race on a pro level — and

I have put all of my resources into it over the last few years. But the well is dry.”

Darling had his first pro race in April 2007, finishing 7th out of 37 starters, and raced Daytona in 2008. He was also on the Out 100 list in 2007.

But since 2009 he’s been almost raceless on the circuit. He’s secured local sponsors in Florida races, but none big enough to foot the $450,000 price tag needed to fund a full season. If he doesn’t snag the money before Jan. 5, he’ll miss the first race of the season and probably have to go back to being a full-time mechanic.

“I’m at the end of my financial ability to survive and will need to start over,” he says.

It’s not been for lack of effort. Darling approached LGBT political supporters with the promise of using their money to place a Trevor Project logo on his car to bring awareness of the initiative, but such supporters are not typically interested in sporting events… odd, considering that Gay Inc. makes a big stink about wanting pro athletes to live and play out-and-proud.

“I told my publicist I would be way more popular if I wore a pink sequin blouse under my racing suit,” Darling quips. “But that’s not me — I’m a regular guy that happens to be gay.”

Much to the chagrin of his teammates. Professional sports are notoriously homophobic, perhaps none more so than NASCAR, which is perceived to cater to rednecks, rappers and religious organizations — groups not particularly fond of the LGBT community.

“Many people have made derogatory remarks about my sexuality. I was fully expecting that going in [to racing],” he says. “I am a mechanic by trade and have had to put up with this mentality my whole life, so it’s not new to me.”

In fact, Darling’s dealt with bigots since childhood. His father, an attorney, represented the Irish-American war veterans in preventing Boston’s LGBT community from participating in its annual Veterans Day parade. His brother Brian is director for U.S. Senate Relations for the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, which famously feuded with Rosie O’Donnell on Larry King Live. Even his mother is still in denial about her son’s sexuality. But at least he can shrug that last one off.

“Things are a bit better now between us,” he says. “I visit them at Christmas and sometimes if I am in the area I stop in. I also call them every week as they’re getting up there in age.”

Darling’s tepid relationship with his family is indicative of how he’s approaching this new chapter in his life — one that may see him fixing cars instead of racing them. Much like his parents, he suggests, NASCAR just isn’t ready for a gay driver — and, as he’s realized, changing the minds of the unwilling is an uphill challenge.

“I think it would be great for the sport and the LGBT community,” he says, contemplating what would happen if someone like Sprint Cup superstar Jeff Gordon came out of the closet. “[But] there would be huge fallout from the NASCAR community. It would be very difficult for anyone that came out with that kind of career. I’m sure it would be interesting to see how his sponsors would react.”

The reality is, some of his current sponsors would certainly abandon him. But with the media frenzy an announcement of that caliber would create, new sponsors would surely step up to the pit, checkbooks in hand — probably none faster than Gay Inc. Because as Darling knows all too well: “It’s all about the bottom line” …. even if that should be, “supporting the community that supports you.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

NCAA Ironing Out Trans Athlete Rules

Kye Allums X390 (GETTY VIA DAILY NEWS) | ADVOCATE.COMThe governing body of college sports has clarified its stance on
allowing student athletes to undergo medical gender transition
procedures while remaining eligible to play. Daily News

—  admin

Dallas Pride: Sports Pride mixer at Woody’s

Get some play with these ballers

For all the jocks who haven’t been so jock-ish lately, Woody’s is the place to be. Organizers from various LGBT sports associations will all be convening at the bar for some drinks, fun and recruitment. For the newbie to the athlete, all of the likely have divisions for you to fit in. And it’s seriously one of the best ways to make new friends.

DEETS: Woody’s, 4011 Cedar Springs Road. 7 p.m. DallasWoody’

—  Rich Lopez

Steve Holcomb is straight bear bait

A few months back Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell penned a piece for our Viewpoints page about Steven “Holcy” Holcomb, the straight Olympic bobsled champion who refreshingly appreciates his many gay fans. At the time McDonnell noted that there’s even a Facebook fan page called, “Bears for Steve Holcomb,” which now has 1,870 members.

McDonnell reports that on Friday, he got a chance to meet Holcomb face to face. Holcomb was in Fort Worth at a national conference for Advocare, a nutrition and sports supplement company that also lists Cowboys tight end Jason Witten among its clients. Holcomb had invited all his Facebook friends to come to the event at the Fort Worth Convention Center. McDonnell, who sent along the above photo, said this of the encounter:

Jason [my roommate] and I both got pictures, and he told Holcomb that we were the two who were texting him while he competed in Canada. He not only remembered that, he also said that he suspected that the texter was a guy because we didn’t disclose a lot of personal information or offer up a picture. But, in his words, “That’s cool.” I told him about the column I wrote for the Voice and he got a big smile out of that.

As McDonnell noted in his original column, it’s sure nice to see a straight athlete who isn’t so homophobic that he squirms at the thought of having gay followers. But I’m also here to tell you that you don’t have to be a bear to want Holcomb to drive your sled. On the other hand, if you like bears or being chased by bears, you may want to pick up some Advocare.

—  John Wright