Sunday, April 24, 2011

When Is Someone Gay Enough for Gay Softball? Seriously

Dionne Searcy blogs about a story in the Seattle Stranger, which reports on a pending federal lawsuit over the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance's policy of permitting only two non-gay players per team in the Gay Softball World Series:

The National Center for Lesbian Rights filed suit on behalf of three D2 [a San Francisco-based gay softball club] team members who were later brought before a softball tribunal and asked questions about their sexuality. Some of the questions centered on whether bisexuality was considered homosexuality, and what per se defined homosexuality. One team member who said he was bisexual was declared “not gay” by the tribunal. The suit said the tribunal process violated players’ privacy and that they were discriminated against based on their sexual orientation and race. (Court documents describe them as “men of color,” The Stranger said.)

The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages and cites emotional distress suffered by the players. It also seeks a nationwide injunction against enforcement of the limit of two straight players per team in gay softball leagues.

The story has several fascinating aspects including a compelling debate between the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance about the need to preserve reasonably exclusively gay spaces and events and some discussion of the practical problem of figuring out who is and is not gay for softball purposes.

To me, though, there is an important (small "l") liberal issue involved here: the right of individuals to freely associate with whomever they choose and to form formal, private organizations that institutionalize those associations. If a group of people want to form a gay sports federation and impose limits on the participation of non-gay individuals (however the group chooses to define non-gay) in their events, it a gross violation of the freedom of association expressed in the First Amendment to require them to do otherwise. Ironically, this principle was affirmed by the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, which upheld the Boy Scouts of America's right to exclude homosexuals from service as Scout leaders.

Whatever its wisdom or lack thereof, the policy excluding non-gay players from the Gay Softball World Series would seem, to me, to be constitutionally protected. I am curious, though, whether a gay rights organization would make a free association argument to protect gay-only organizations even if it meant endorsing a position that enabled the exclusion of gays in other contexts.

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