GA Voice - - Out­spo­ken -

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)

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