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LaRon Charles, Jon Russ and Steven Apilado had been playing softball together in the San Francisco Gay Softball League for years. Their team had competed in the Gay Softball World Series organized by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA), but had never finished better than fourth place. At the 2008 World Series in Seattle, the team made it all the way to the championship game, when they were shocked to learn that their eligibility to play was being challenged based on a NAGAAA rule limiting the number of non-gay players who could play on a World Series team.
The players were called into a conference room and questioned in front of more than 25 people, most of them strangers, about their sexual orientations and private lives. The players, who are bisexual, were forced to answer whether they were “predominantly” interested in men or women, without being given the option of answering that they were bisexual. In response to a player’s statement that he was attracted to both men and women, a NAGAAA member who was in the room stated, “this is not a bisexual world series‚–this is a gay world series.” NAGAAA’s protest committee voted that the three plaintiffs were “believed to be heterosexual,” and their team was disqualified from its second place finish.
The three players are all men of color. Two of their teammates, who are white, were also questioned by the protest committee, but only the players of color were believed by the committee to be heterosexual. The committee voted that the two challenged white players were believed to be gay and did not count towards NAGAAA’s limit.
In April 2010, NCLR and the law firm K&L Gates filed a complaint in federal court in Seattle, challenging NAGAAA’s rules, the intrusive and humiliating protest process inflicted on the players.
In November 2011, the players and NAGAAA agreed to settle the case. In the settlement, NAGAAA recognized that disqualifying the players from the 2008 tournament was not consistent with NAGAAA’s intention of being inclusive of bisexual players. NAGAAA now recognizes the players’ team, D2, as a second-place winner of the 2008 Gay Softball World Series, and will award the team a second-place trophy. NAGAAA expressed regret at the impact the 2008 protest hearing process had on the players and their team.
As a result of this case, NAGAAA changed its rules to be fully inclusive of all bisexual and transgender players, permitting an unlimited number of bisexual or transgender players to participate on a Gay Softball World Series team. This rule change is a step towards making the league a more welcoming space for all players, including bisexual players and people of color. Several studies have shown that men of color are more likely to identify as bisexual than as gay. NAGAAA’s rule changes mean that LGBTQ people of color are less likely to disproportionately face exclusion from its tournaments.