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Griner takes aim at fighting bullying April 5, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Sports, Sports, Women.
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Roger’s note: Confession: I love sports.  I am an unrepentant sports fan.   Blame the golden era of the Brooklyn Dodgers and my father who took me to witness history and Jackie Robinson at Ebbets Field in 1947.  Blame a Rose Bowl appearance in my freshman year at Berkeley (there has not been once since that day in January 1959).  I know this is not politically correct (note that I use the phrase as it was originally intended, to indicate a minor and relatively insignificant aberration of principle [an acknowledgement of human frailty], and not how the phase has been perverted by the radical right to denote someone who is zealous in the pursuit of the principles of social justice).  Every once in a while, rarely perhaps, a story comes out of the sports world that conflates the world of sport with socially positive principle.  Such is the case of Brittney Griner.  I also cannot help pointing out that Texas’s Baylor University, a self-proclaimed “Christian” school with overt and repressive anti-gay regulations for its students, was willing to “overlook” Griner’s lesbianism as long as she kept her mouth shut about it and continued to rake in big money for the school with her extraordinary basketball skills.

As you will see from reading this article, she is now a wealthy professional basketball player in the WNBA and still feels compelled to share her painful history and re-live that pain so that LGBT youth of today may not have to experience the same degradations that she did.  I consider her a heroic figure, both on and off the court.

 

By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com, April 4, 2014

 

Brittney GrinerJennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsBrittney Griner’s app will provide resources to school officials looking for ways to aid bullying victims.

 

It was hard watching Brittney Griner struggle to keep the smile on her face.

With each breath, it seemed a tiny portion of the joy she came onstage with slowly dissipated, like smoke fleeing the wick of a candle that has recently been blown out. Barely five minutes into the first session of this year’s SXSW’s sports plenary and one of the most accomplished players in NCAA history is broken.

When I asked her to begin the panel discussion by reading aloud a passage from her autobiography, “In My Skin: My Life on and off the Basketball Court,” I had assumed the 22-year-old was over it.

The bullying from middle school.

The teasing from high school.

The ridicule and isolation that can sometime come when who and what society says you are supposed to be are not reflective of who and what you actually are.

Because the Venn diagram our culture etches into the national narrative makes happiness a subset of wealth, from the outside looking in, and we naturally assume professional athletes have it all. Griner has a Nike deal and 77-foot banner of her likeness draped over a building in downtown Phoenix before she took a single WNBA dribble. And yet here we are, in a crowded banquet room of an Austin, Texas, hotel, and the only sounds that can be heard are the occasional creaks a chair makes when the occupant shifts his or her weight — and the gentle sobs of someone who is supposed to have it all.

 

They say it’s important for kids to express themselves, but from the moment kids start to make choices — what clothes they want to wear, what toys they want to play with, what activities they want to pursue — society tries to define them and put them into neat little boxes. Girls are supposed to act this way, boys that way. And any kid who doesn’t fit into one of those boxes gets labeled as weird or strange or different.

“I really don’t talk about the past that much because it just wasn’t good,” Griner told me later after she had read the above passage from her book at our panel. “Even when I was writing the book I was reliving that pain all over again.

“There were times when I didn’t want to do the book anymore because of all of the pain. But I felt that if I did it, maybe I could help someone else who was in school right now and having a very hard time.”

 

 

 

Brittney Griner, who scored 3,283 career points, dunked 18 times and set the NCAA record (man or woman) with 748 career blocks at Baylor, shares her coming-of-age story, revealing how she found the strength to overcome bullies and to embrace her authentic self.

 

Griner: Book signing, interview

• Brittney Griner will hold a book-signing session following an exclusive interview with espnW.com’s Kate Fagan, as part of the weekend’s festivities at NCAA Tourney Town. The event begins Sunday, April 6, at 3:30 p.m. local time at Music City Center in Nashville.

 

In addition to the book, Griner is launching a smartphone app to help bullied teens and provide resources to school officials who are at a loss as to how to help them.

“The one question I would ask my teachers is, ‘Why?'” Griner said, her voice starting to shake. “‘Why didn’t you do anything to try to stop what was happening to me? Why didn’t you do anything to help me or any of the other kids who were being bullied every day?’

“But then I wonder if they even knew how to help. Or even if they understood how important it is that they do help. They might think it’s just kids being kids, but really — it’s more. They could save somebody’s life.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, with LGBT youth being four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. It’s a statistic that resonates more when familiar faces like Griner’s are attached to it. She spends time in the book discussing what she calls “the dark days” and the time in which she imagined what would happen “if I didn’t exist anymore.”

Only the most callous of hearts could hear such a statement and not be touched. And usually those hearts have Twitter accounts.

Despite rewriting the record books, the names directed at Griner, even still, are as demeaning as the ones that began circulating soon after the “High School Girl Dunks” video clip made her a YouTube curiosity while at Nimitz High School. The ridicule via social media remains as relentless as the insults schoolmates would direct her way in the halls of Teague Middle School. Griner said one of her tormentors walked right up to her in the hallway, rubbed on her chest and then yelled, “See, I told you she was a boy.”

The teachers nearby did nothing.

“I remember thinking once I got to college I would finally be free,” she said. “And then I get there and I had to stay hidden. My teammates didn’t have a problem with me being gay, but the school did. It was crazy.”

Whenever an athlete — be it Griner, the NBA’s Jason Collins or NFL draft prospect Michael Sam — publicly talk about their sexual orientation, inevitably the question “Who cares?” can be heard. And in many ways it is a legitimate response. If someone wants to be judged by their on-the-field performance, then why willingly choose to draw attention to one’s private life?

“In My Skin” is Griner’s way of answering that. In one passage, she writes: “Being true to myself has often been at odds with my desire to please others. I’ve spent years trying so hard to be the version of myself that would make the most people happy. Over time, though, I’ve come to realize that no matter how much I compromise, some people will never understand me. And accepting this truth has given me a new level of comfort and freedom.”

And by expressing that comfort and freedom, Griner said she hopes to empower young people who, like her younger self, spent many nights feeling hopeless and alone. This weekend she is the Grand Marshall in the Phoenix Pride parade, and, along with Blake Skjellerup — an openly gay Olympic speed skater — will be doing a meet-and-greet at the celebration’s youth zone.

 

[+] EnlargeBrittney Griner, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore

AP Photo/Stacy BengsBrittney Griner hired longtime NBA assistant Dean Denomopolis to help her with her game this offseason.

 

“It was important to Phoenix Pride to showcase individuals whom are not only out, but actively using their celebrity to make the world a better place,” said Dani Logan, the celebration’s program manager.

“One of the hardest parts about growing up was not having any role models,” Griner said. “I mean I don’t know if that would have stopped kids from bullying me, but it would have given me some strength. … There were a lot of days when I was tired of being bullied, that I didn’t have strength.”

There used to be a time when the thought of someone who was routinely the biggest kid in class — someone who currently stands at 6 feet, 8 inches and 200 pounds — as not having the strength to fight off bullying was ridiculous. But that was before the environment that 6-5, 312-pound Jonathan Martin had to contend with in Miami came to light, and suddenly the size of victims and bullies was diminished.

“From the very first day, we clicked,” said Janell Roy, a high school teammate of Griner who remains close to her today. “We were like sisters, but she wouldn’t tell me everything that was going on. I guess because she knew I would try to protect her, but there’s only so much you can do, you know?

“But I saw some of it. Even in our locker room. They would say she was a guy and talk about her sexuality. Sometimes things would get real tense, and that would be hard for her. She didn’t tell me all that had happened to her in middle school until years later. My sister’s been through a lot.”

Nearly 82 percent of LGBT students are verbally harassed and close to 40 percent are physically harassed, according to the 2011 National School Climate Survey. And unfortunately, there’s no shortage of faces who fall into those categories.

Faces such as Jack Andraka, the high school whiz kid who in 2012 invented an early detection test for pancreatic cancer at age 15, talks about relentless bullying and thoughts of suicide. His story is not very different from Griner’s. Their stories are not very different from the ones featured in the 2011 documentary “Bully” or the stories regularly heard by volunteers at organizations such as The Human Rights Campaign, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Alliance and The Trevor Project, which the San Francisco 49ers’ Chris Culliver visited as part of his mea culpa for anti-gay statements made during Super Bowl XLVII media week.

All of it continues to drive Griner.

“I can’t live my life and pretend as if everything is OK now that I’m a professional basketball player when I know it’s not OK for kids who were like me,” she said.Which is not to suggest her basketball development is taking a back seat to advocacy work.

Far from it.

Though fans made her a WNBA All-Star, a knee injury kept Griner from playing in the game. And besides dunking in her first game and hitting a series-clinching jumper over Candace Parker in the first round of the playoffs, Griner’s inaugural season was plagued by foul trouble and overshadowed by Chicago Sky’s Elena Delle Donne, who won rookie of the year honors. There’s work to be done, and she knows it. After signing to play in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association last summer, Griner hired longtime NBA assistant coach Dean Demopoulos to travel with her to help her develop her game.

“I don’t know if I taught her anything new,” he said. “When we met, she could pretty much do everything. She had the footwork, she had the touch. She can shoot. And I mean really shoot. I spent two years with Ray Allen, so I know what a shooter looks like — she has a stroke. What we worked on was repetition. Taking the second-guessing out of her game and letting things come naturally.”

 

I can’t live my life and pretend as if everything is OK now that I’m a professional basketball player when I know it’s not OK for kids who were like me.

– Brittney Griner

 

The results? MVP honors in the league’s All-Star game and coming a game short of a finals appearance.

“She could probably play the 4, the 3 — she’s that agile,” Demopoulos said. “It’s going to be interesting to see just how much better she’s going to get, because she has a big glass and it’s not near full.

“She got it, by the way — that ‘it’ stuff — she’s got it. That charisma you want your franchise player to have. Only thing is she’s got to change that diet. That girl ate Pizza Hut, KFC and candy for four months.”

But if you let Griner tell it, that was the best thing on the menu.

“Let’s just say the food was really interesting,” she said with a smile.

And it is good to see her smile.

With high cheek bones, flawless cafe-au-lait-colored skin and shoulder-length locks with tips that appear to have been dipped in honey, the great irony about Griner being harassed for her appearance is that she is really beautiful. Sweet, too. The kind of woman who still smiles when referred to being her daddy’s little girl even as her daddy still wrestles with who his little girl is. Early on, Griner writes that her father never wanted her to play beyond the backyard of their home. And when he learned she was gay, he told her, “I ain’t raising no gay girl in my house! You can pack your s— and get the f— out!” And for two months she stayed at an assistant coach’s home before reconciliation.

An estimated 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT, with nearly half being kicked out of their homes for that reason. Again, statistics resonate more when familiar faces are attached to it.

“I think we’re getting better,” Griner said. “I still love my family very much. But it’s hard.

“I guess this is why I thought it was important that I did this book and shared my story. I don’t like thinking about the past and all of that pain. But if talking about it helps just one person — I’ll do it.”

 

Bradley Manning is Off Limits at SF Gay Pride Parade, but Corporate Sleaze is Embraced April 27, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, LGBT, San Francisco.
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A seemingly trivial controversy reveals quite a bit about pervasive political values

News reports yesterday indicated that Bradley Manning, widely known to be gay, had been selected to be one of the Grand Marshals of the annual San Francisco gay pride parade, named by the LGBT Pride Celebration Committee. When the predictable backlash instantly ensued, the president of the Board of SF Pride, Lisa L Williams, quickly capitulated, issuing a cowardly, imperious statement that has to be read to be believed.

(Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Williams proclaimed that “Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year’s San Francisco Pride celebration” and termed his selection “a mistake”. She blamed it all on a “staff person” who prematurely made the announcement based on a preliminary vote, and she assures us all that the culprit “has been disciplined”: disciplined. She then accuses Manning of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”: a substance-free falsehood originally spread by top US military officials which has since been decisively and extensively debunked, even by some government officials (indeed, it’s the US government itself, not Manning, that is guilty of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”). And then, in my favorite part of her statement, Williams decreed to all organization members that “even the hint of support” for Manning’s action – even the hint – “will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride”. Will not be tolerated.

I originally had no intention of writing about this episode, but the more I discovered about it, the more revealing it became. So let’s just consider a few of the points raised by all of this.

First, while even a hint of support for Manning will not be tolerated, there is a long roster of large corporations serving as the event’s sponsors who are welcomed with open arms. The list is here. It includes AT&T and Verizon, the telecom giants that enabled the illegal warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens by the Bush administration and its NSA, only to get retroactively immunized from Congress and thus shielded from all criminal and civil liability (including a lawsuit brought in San Francisco against those corporations by their customers who were illegally spied on). Last month, AT&T was fined by OSHA for failing to protect one of its employees who was attacked, was found by the FCC last year to have overcharged customers by secretly switching them to plans they didn’t want, and is now being sued by the US government for “allegedly bill[ing] the government improperly for services designed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing who place calls by typing messages over the web.”

sf pride

The list of SF Pride sponsors also includes Bank of America, now being sued for $1 billion by the US government for allegedly engaging in a systematic scheme of mortgage fraud which the US Attorney called “spectacularly brazen in scope”. Just last month, the same SF Pride sponsor received a record fine for ignoring a court order and instead trying to collect mortgage payments from bankrupt homeowners to which it was not entitled. Earlier this month, SF-Pride-sponsoring Bank of America paid $2.4 billion to settle shareholder allegations that Bank executives “failed to disclose information about losses at Merrill Lynch and bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch employees before the brokerage was acquired by Bank of America in January 2009 for $18.5 billion.”

Another beloved SF Pride sponsor, Wells Fargo, is also being “sued by the US for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over claims the bank made reckless mortgage loans that caused losses for a federal insurance program when they defaulted”. Last year, Wells Fargo was fined $3.1 million by a federal judge for engaging in conduct that court called “highly reprehensible” relating to its persecution of a struggling homeowner. In 2011, the bank was fined by the US government “for allegedly pushing borrowers with good credit into expensive mortgages and falsifying loan applications.”

Also in Good Standing with the SF Pride board: Clear Channel, the media outlet owned by Bain Capital that broadcasts the radio programs of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck; a pension fund is suing this SF Pride sponsor for making cheap, below-market loans to its struggling parent company. The health care giant Kaiser Permanente, another proud SF Pride sponsor, is currently under investigation by California officials for alleged massive privacy violations in the form of recklessly disclosing 300,000 patient records.

SF pride

So apparently, the very high-minded ethical standards of Lisa L Williams and the SF Pride Board apply only to young and powerless Army Privates who engage in an act of conscience against the US war machine, but instantly disappear for large corporations and banks that hand over cash. What we really see here is how the largest and most corrupt corporations own not just the government but also the culture. Even at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, once an iconic symbol of cultural dissent and disregard for stifling peities, nothing can happen that might offend AT&T and the Bank of America. The minute something even a bit deviant takes place (as defined by standards imposed by America’s political and corporate class), even the SF Gay Pride Parade must scamper, capitulate, apologize, and take an oath of fealty to their orthodoxies (we adore the military, the state, and your laws). And, as usual, the largest corporate factions are completely exempt from the strictures and standards applied to the marginalized and powerless. Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata at SF Pride, illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveryors of the nation’s worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome.

Second, the authoritarian, state-and-military-revering mentality pervading Williams’ statement is striking. It isn’t just the imperious decree that “even a hint of support” for Manning “will not be tolerated”, though that is certainly creepy. Nor is it the weird announcement that the wrongdoer “has been disciplined”. Even worse is the mindless embrace of the baseless claims of US military officials (that Manning “placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”) along with the supremely authoritarian view that any actions barred by the state are, ipso facto, ignoble and wrong. Conduct can be illegal and yet still be noble and commendable: see, for instance, Daniel Ellsberg, or most of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the US. Indeed, acts of civil disobedience and conscience by people who risk their own interests to battle injustices are often the most commendable acts. Equating illegal behavior with ignominious behavior is the defining mentality of an authoritarian – and is particularly notable coming from what was once viewed as a bastion of liberal dissent.

But the more one learns about the parties involved here, the less surprising it becomes. According to her biography, Williams “organized satellite offices for the Obama campaign” and also works for various Democratic politicians. It was President Obama, of course, who so notoriously decreed Bradley Manning guilty in public before his trial by military officers serving under Obama even began, and whose administration was found by the UN’s top torture investigator to have abused him and is now so harshly prosecuting him. It’s anything but surprising that a person who was a loyal Obama campaign aide finds Bradley Manning anathema while adoring big corporations and banks (which funded the Obama campaign and who, in the case of telecoms, Obama voted to immunize).

What we see here is how even many of the most liberal precincts in America are now the leading spokespeople for and loyalists to state power as a result of their loyalty to President Obama. Thus do we have the President of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade sounding exactly like the Chairman of the Joints Chief, or Sarah Palin, or gay war-loving neocons, in depicting any meaningful opposition to the National Security State as the supreme sin. I’d be willing to bet large amounts of money that Williams has never condemned the Obama administration’s abuse of Manning in detention or its dangerously radical prosecution of him for “aiding the enemy”. I have no doubt that the people who did all of that would be showered with gratitude by Parade officials if they attended. In so many liberal precincts in the Age of Obama – even now including the SF Gay Pride parade – the federal government, its military, and its federal prosecutors are to be revered and celebrated but not criticized; only those who oppose them are villains.

Third, when I wrote several weeks ago about the remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality, I noted that this development is less significant than it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed. If anything, it bolsters those power structures because it completely and harmlessly assimilates a previously excluded group into existing institutions and thus incentivizes them to accommodate those institutions and adopt their mindset. This event illustrates exactly what I meant.

While some of the nation’s most corrupt corporations are welcome to fly their flag over the parade, consider what Manning – for whom “even a hint of support will not be tolerated” – actually did. His leak revealed all sorts of corruption, deceit and illegality on the part of the world’s most powerful corporations. They led to numerous journalism awards for WikiLeaks. Even Bill Keller, the former Executive Editor of the New York Times who is a harsh WikiLeaks critic, credited those leaks with helping to spark the Arab Spring, the greatest democratic revolution the world has seen in decades. Multiple media accounts describe how the cables documenting atrocities committed by US troops in Iraq prevented the Malaki government from allowing US troops to stay beyond the agreed-to deadline: i.e., helped end the Iraq war by thwarting Obama’s attempts to prolong it. For all of that, Manning was selected by Guardian readers as the 2012 Person of the Year, while former Army Lt. Dan Choi said yesterday:

As we move forward as a country, we need truth in order to gain justice, you can’t have justice without the whole truth . . . So what [Manning did as a gay American, as a gay soldier, he stood for integrity, I am proud of him.”

But none of those vital benefits matter to authoritarians. That’s because authoritarians, by definition, believe in the overarching Goodness of institutions of power, and believe the only bad acts come from those who challenge or subvert that power. Bad acts aren’t committed by the National Security State or Surveillance State; they are only committed by those who oppose them. If a person’s actions threaten power factions or are deemed prohibited by them, then Good Authoritarians will reflexively view the person as evil and will be eager to publicly disassociate themselves from such individuals. Or, as Williams put it, “even the hint of support” for Manning “will not be tolerated”, and those who deviate from this decree will be “disciplined”.

sf pride

Even the SF Gay Pride Parade is now owned by and beholden to the nation’s largest corporations, subject to their dictates. Those who run the event are functionaries of, loyalists to, the nation’s most powerful political officials. That’s how this parade was so seamlessly transformed from orthodoxy-challenging, individualistic and creative cultural icon into yet another pile of obedient apparatchiks that spout banal slogans doled out by the state while viciously scorning those who challenge them. Yes, there will undoubtedly still be exotically-dressed drag queens, lesbian motorcycle clubs, and groups proudly defined by their unusual sexual proclivities participating in the parade, but they’ll be marching under a Bank of America banner and behind flag-waving fans of the National Security State, the US President, and the political party that dominates American politics and its political and military institutions. Yet another edgy, interesting, creative, independent event has been degraded and neutered into a meek and subservient ritual that must pay homage to the nation’s most powerful entities and at all costs avoid offending them in any way.

It’s hardly surprising that someone who so boldly and courageously opposes the US war machine is demonized and scorned this way. Daniel Ellsberg was subjected to the same attacks before he was transformed many years later into a liberal hero (though Ellsberg had the good fortune to be persecuted by a Republican rather than Democratic President and thus, even back then, had some substantial support; come to think of it, Ellsberg lives in San Francisco: would expressions of support for him be tolerated?). But the fact that such lock-step, heel-clicking, military-mimicking behavior is now coming from the SF Gay Pride Parade of all places is indeed noteworthy: it reflects just how pervasive this authoritarian rot has become.

Corporate corruption and sleaze

For a bit more on the dominance of corporate sleaze and corruption in our political culture, see the first few paragraphs of this extraordinary Politico article on a new book about DC culture, and this Washington Post article detailing the supreme annual convergence of political, media and corporate sleaze called “the White House Correspondents’ Dinner”, to be held this weekend.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon.  His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Uganda Gay Pride September 8, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Human Rights, LGBT, Uganda.
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