By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly
On April 15, All-American Baylor center basketball star Brittney Griner was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft by the Phoenix Mercury. What seemed more monumental to me however was that on April 17 she came out publically as a lesbian and is now signed with Nike.
In Griner’s interview with ESPN, what was truly moving was her willingness to be so open and forthcoming about her experiences with homophobia and discrimination. As a 22-year-old towering 6-foot-8 athlete, Griner clearly doesn’t fit the typical norm of what a “real woman” supposedly looks like. She’s faced a lifetime of bullying and derogatory homophobic remarks.
Griner shared some of the blatantly homophobic and transphobic comments people have made about her:“She’s a man….Show us your penis we know you have one. [She has a] deep voice…oh she has an adams apple. Man…[she’s a] Man…Man….Man.”
Growing up a tall and closeted lesbian she felt as if she didn’t fit in, was constantly picked on, and felt all alone. At one point she hits her rock bottom and talked about not wanting to be here, wanting to end it all saying, “What’s the point”? Continuing, “I was crying at night and not as happy as everyone thought…..And nobody knew”.
As a butch lesbian the experiences Griner shared resonated with me and I’m betting a ton of other queers out there. At one point she talks about her experience going through airport security being put in the male line to be searched by male security officers and having to tell them she’s female. This may seem like a minor, insignificant incident but when this sort of public mistaken identity occurs on a regular basis it’s sometimes more than one person can bear.
Griner may be in the spotlight now, but her lifetime of facing homophobia and discrimination is not unique. Bullying of LGBT youth is a continual problem and gay and lesbian teenagers are two to three times more likely to commit suicide compared to other youths. Earlier this year, La Grande teenager Jadin Bell took his own life after being continually bullied and harassed for being gay.
In 2010, Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller created the “It Gets Better Project” to help young LGBTQ people who were being bullied know that things get better. Its mission: “to communicate to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth around the world that it gets better, and to create and inspire the changes needed to make it better for them.”
Whether it’s a star athlete like Griner or an everyday person, coming out and telling your story is powerful and important if we are to stop harassment, discrimination, bullying, and suicide. There WILL be kids that hear Griner’s experiences growing up and find hope and solace in her message. LGBTQ youth especially need to see openly lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer adults talking about their lives and showing them that things will improve.
Shaley Howard is a sports writer for PQ Monthly as well as an athlete, sports enthusiast, and organizer of the annual HRC Women’s 3×3 Basketball Tournament. She is also is the owner and operator of Scratch N’ Sniff Pet Care, which she considers the best job in the world. Shaley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.