Hoop Dreams: Portland Trail Blazers Embrace LGBTQ Equality; Pledge Eventual “Pride Night”

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By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly

It was 1977, and the Portland Trail Blazers had just won the NBA championship. I was a 10-year-old little tomboy that had just started playing the sport I would come to love — basketball.  As I grew, I knew I either wanted to be a professional basketball player, Superman, or an astronaut. Although none of these career choices came to fruition, my love for basketball and the Blazers continued — though I’m still working on the Superman part. From having life-size posters of Maurice Lucas on my wall to sitting in awe of ‘Clyde the Glide’ flying through the air to today’s current Blazer stars Roy and Lillard — I can easily claim I’m a lifelong fan.

I’m also a big lesbian — a lesbian who has been attending Blazer games ever since I can remember. And even though I would always cheer loudly for my hometown team, the Portland Trail Blazers, I knew I was never really welcomed with open arms because of my sexual orientation — a tad bit heartbreaking and ironic that the sport and team I loved and supported did not support me.

While attending home games over the years as an obvious butch-looking lesbian, I knew not to respond to disparaging gay jokes, innuendos or the constant looks — I needed to blend in, focus on the game and have fun with friends. I knew when the “kiss cam” (a camera that is positioned on audience members during breaks, urging them to kiss accompanied by a smooching sound) was jokingly put on two men, usually two players on the opposing team, to laugh along with everyone else or just say nothing. I clearly understood the undercurrent and message I was so familiar with growing up in a homophobic society — being gay is abnormal and should not be happening. I mean really — how incredibly funny it is to see two MEN kiss?!

Fast forward to October 11, 2013, and The Portland Trail Blazers announce that they are coming out in support of gay marriage. From their press release: “We are in support of the Freedom to Marry and Religious Protection ballot initiative. We do so as believers in individual choice as a fundamental right of all people.” This was a day I will not soon forget. Not only was my team — my team — coming out in support of the LGBTQ community, they were also the first NBA franchise to do so.

When I chatted with Trail Blazers Vice President of Community Relations Traci Rose about what prompted the Trail Blazers to come out in support of gay marriage, she replied thusly:

“The motivation actually started when we were first working years ago with Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), one of the organizations that inspired us to created ‘Respect, Pass It On’, a program that focuses on promoting respect for everyone and ending bullying. We were seeing the bullying trend continue, especially with LGBTQ students. We realized we are the Trail Blazers — we receive a lot of attention with 20,000 people in our building every night, and we have the ability to shine this incredible light on things. We know that we’re not the experts, especially on serious topics like bullying, but what we can do is help start the conversation, get people’s attention and get them to the groups and organizations out there that are the experts and are doing the work.”

The Blazers are in good company — as businesses as diverse as Moda, Nike, adidas (and many others) have come out in support of LGBTQ equality. And the support from the Blazers comes from the top-down. Vulcan Inc. and Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen was one of the largest supporters of Washington’s marriage equality legislation back in 2012. Vulcan Inc. was one of the original signatories on a high-profile petition — eventually sent to legislators — that ostensibly recruited other companies to support the statewide same-sex marriage campaign initiative.

“I’m not surprised at all by the long list of other businesses supporting the Trail Blazers and marriage equality,” Rose continued. “I think that everyone recognizes and understands that it’s not only important to us and our business community but to our community in general. This is about human rights, basic rights and equality. This is not political; this is about us doing the right thing,”

The Blazers traditionally have certain nights throughout the season that are used to celebrate diversity in our community, like Latino and Native American night. The question on my mind with all of this LGBTQ equality talk was — will the Trail Blazers have a PRIDE night? The answer was an immediate yes — in fact, it was an unfettered, absolute yes. Apparently when Rose took the endorsement contract into Trail Blazer President Chris McGowan’s office needing his signature; he signed, then looked up at Rose and said, “So when are we going to have a Pride night?”

What remains to be seen is whether or not the fans will step up and follow the Trail Blazer lead in supporting LGBTQ equality — queers wonder, will there be backlash? In that regard, only time will tell. We’ve experienced homophobia for years, but our community does know one thing for certain — people grow and change does come—even when it’s slow and painful, it does come. I am fully confident that someday soon not only will the “kiss cam” land on two unsuspecting queers — but conversations about LGBTQ equality will be irrelevant. My guess, however, is the “kiss cam” will come first. Baby steps, queers, baby steps.