This season marks the third in which the WNBA has recognized LGBT fans via Pride-related courtside signage, community events and merchandise that raises funds for gay community groups. The Atlanta Dream will host a special LGBT-themed Pride night on Sept. 4.
“WNBA fans are proud of their teams, favorite players and themselves, and we are honored to have so many loyal fans in the LGBT community,” said WNBA President Lisa Borders. “We embrace the opportunity to celebrate the league’s diverse fan base and to promote important values of our game like inclusion and respect.”
Such open embracing of the gay community is special in any sports league, but particularly in the WNBA. Founded in 1996, the league initially fought stereotypes of lesbian-only athletes by promoting a strongly heteronormative, family-friendly image that left its large LGBT fanbase feeling shut out. That began to change in 2014. That year saw league president Laurel J. Richie launch WNBA Pride, responding in part to research that estimated a quarter or more of WNBA season ticket holders identified as lesbian.
Fast-forward to 2016, and the league openly courts LGBT fans with splashy rainbow gear and a special Pride-themed web page.
“We’re really turning the tide, where people are using their outness…to build a brand,” Clarendon said.
Clarendon herself has used her own voice to press for increased recognition of transgender rights in particular. Surprisingly, she credits things like the fall of anti-gay marriage laws with the rise in attention to transgender issues.
“It got to a point where a Democrat
Atlanta Dream LGBT Night
or Republican wasn’t going to run on the whole ‘I’m for or against gay marriage’ anymore, because obviously it’s federally legal,” she said. “So now, it’s shifted to transphobia.”
In a first-person article she penned in June, Clarendon shared experiences of being misidentified as male based on her nongender conformist clothing, and lamented the similar experiences of transgender people every day. She later took the community to task for not speaking up for transgender brothers and sisters.
“They are disproportionately at risk for homelessness, poverty, abuse, anxiety and depression,” she wrote. “As a community and as humans, we can’t just settle for gay marriage. We have the responsibility to fight for trans rights with tenacity.”
But make no mistakes, Clarendon believes homophobia in sports remains a key issue – as much today as it was during that game in 2014. The difference is now, there are more athlete voices speaking out.
Clarendon, who eventually hopes to go into broadcasting, plans to keep making her voice among the loudest.
“A lot of that has to do with my faith and just getting to a point where I was okay being gay and Christian,” she said. “And then realizing [advocacy] was my calling and my purpose.”
Atlanta Dream player Layshia Clarendon is making waves on and off the court. (Publicity photos)