December 02, 2023

HER SIDE OF THE COURT | Our LGBT athletes deserve equal respect—not just in Pride Month, but all year round

HER SIDE OF THE COURT | Our LGBT athletes deserve equal respect—not just in Pride Month, but all year round
Instagram/Aby Maraño | Reuters | Art by Royce Nicdao

Pro volleyball athlete Aby Maraño makes no secret about her happiness with fellow athlete Kamille Cal. Maraño, who plays for the F2 Logistics Cargo Movers, has been open about her relationship to the public, and has previously shared how her mother supports her relationship.

In a past Instagram post showing her mother hugging her girlfriend, Maraño had shared: "Ang pinakamasarap na suporta at PAGTANGGAP ay ang yakap ng isang ina na nagpapahiwatig na ito’y walang ibang hinahangad kundi ang kaligayahan ng anak, kaginhawaan at ang seguridad na hindi na ito muling luluha’t masasaktan.”

Despite this, the couple has still been targeted by netizens who make homophobic comments about their relationship. In response, Maraño shared on Facebook: "Puro talak, akala mo naman mahusay mag-alaga at magmahal ng kababaihan. Nag-comment pa pero hindi marunong rumispeto."

The outspoken Maraño added: “Wala nang magpapaaping mga kababaihan sa pamilyang ito. Wala nang magpapagulpi sa discrimination,” alongside hashtags saying “Love Wins,” “Women Are Powerful,” and “Women Are Not Objects.”

That Maraño, one of the most popular athletes in the Philippines, is not spared from discrimination says so much about the need to build more inclusive spaces in Philippine sports. If this can happen to one of the most successful and popular athletes, what more for lesser-known athletes?

You can just imagine how many queer athletes are afraid to come out for fear of discrimination from the public—or even from their teammates and coaches.

And even those who have come out and are living their truth face obstacles in a sports industry where many people still believe in gender roles and stereotypes. How many young athletes will not reach their full potential because discrimination discourages them from staying in the industry?

Just put yourself in the shoes of a young boy who plays basketball. Honestly, would you feel safe coming out? And among women athletes, how many choose to keep their social media private—even if it means losing out on potential endorsements and fans—because they are not comfortable with coming out?

So, what does inclusivity in sports look like? Civility in the social media comments section is only the tip of the iceberg. Real inclusivity means safety. It means clauses in player contracts that guarantee protection from harassment within their teams and leagues. It means the leadership of teams (from the amateur level to the pros, to NSAs) learning more about gender sensitivity, and fostering an inclusive culture across the organization.

Does that sound impossible to you? We’ve got a long way to go, for sure, but we’ve got role models in the international sports community to look to.

The USWNT’s lesbian players have been fantastic voices in using their platform—whether it’s Abby Wambach making a statement by kissing her wife after winning the 2015 World Cup, or Megan Rapinoe saying that coming out made her “a better, more full person.” Together with WNBA star Sue Bird, Rapinoe mainstreamed the concept of a gay sports power couple.

In 2014, the WNBA became the first USA pro league to recognize Pride as an official initiative each June. As of 2022, 20% of athletes were out. And according to the players, the Pride efforts don’t just make them feel safe—they strengthen engagement with their audience, too.

“What you don’t realize…is how much it will mean to you to have your employer support Pride Month. Over the last 8 to 10 years, players have been more comfortable being themselves,” Bird once told ESPN. “[And] we’ve learned its authenticity that draws people in.”

An inclusive sports industry is a win for everyone. And so, it's time for us to push for equal respect and protections for LGBT athletes—not just during Pride Month, but all year round.