Professional basketball player Brittney Griner has written an important memoir called In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court. Griner recounts her experience developing as a top hoops player while confronting prejudice as a lesbian athlete.
The criticism of Griner started early, as her own father repeatedly told her it was unacceptable for her to be “dating girls” and to be open about her sexual identity. He warned her that her college scholarships would be jeopardized if schools knew she was lesbian.
Concerned about her father’s remarks, Griner checked with Baylor University women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey before signing her letter of intent, texting Mulkey “I’m gay. I hope that’s not a problem.” Mulkey responded: “Big Girl, I don’t care what you are. You can be black, white, blue, purple whatever. As long as you come here and do what you need to do and hoop, I don’t care.” Griner astutely points out that the answer signaled Mulkey’s discomfort with LGBT status: “Being gay is a real thing; nobody is blue or purple unless they’re choking to death.”
Moreover, no one at Baylor informed Griner of Baptist Baylor’s policy against homosexuality. It was only after Griner arrived at Baylor that Mulkey repeatedly told her to hide her sexual identity, “keep it behind closed doors,” as the title of the best chapter in the book explains. No public dating. No tweets about sexuality. In that way, Baylor could enjoy a national championship through Griner’s efforts while maintaining its anti-LGBT Christian identity. As Griner explains:
The more I think about it, the more I feel like the people who run the school want it both ways: they want to keep the policy, so they can keep selling themselves as a Christian university, but they are more than happy to benefit from the success of their gay athletes. That is, as long as those gay athletes don’t talk about being gay.
Sadly, Griner’s experience at Baylor is representative of the long history of anti-LGBT discrimination in other religious institutions. Although Catholic schools have benefitted from the generous service of their LGBT teachers, across the country school administrators are repeatedly firing anyone who dares to go public with an LGBT identity, whether by getting married, living in an open relationship, or even voicing public support for LGBT rights.
At the end of the book, Griner writes that the official Baylor is not the Baylor she knows, because “my Baylor is made up of all the great friends I met in Waco, and the teammates I won a national championship with, and the fans who were cheering for me at the Homecoming game.” The same is true of many Catholics, who have collaborated with accepting coworkers while the hierarchy pursues its own discriminatory agenda.
Griner powerfully explains the importance of being true to herself and her own identity despite the official policies.
The saddest point of all is that this Baptist and Catholic prejudice is defended in the name of religious freedom.