In the predominantly red state of Texas, anti-LGBT sentiments run deep. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has promised to introduce a federal "religious freedom" bill which would legalize anti-LGBT discrimination on "religious grounds". And the Texas State Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case brought forth by GOP lawmakers in Houston which would limit the protections offered to legally wed same sex couples--the plaintiffs in the case have said that they hope to get SCOTUS to overturn their landmark 2015 ruling which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
Yet amidst all the bigotry there are signs of change. Around 100,000 women marched for their reproductive rightsfor their reproductive rights in various Texas cities during January's national Women's March according to Texas Monthly magazine. And on WFAA TV in Dallas, longtime sportscaster Dale Hansen, 68, who is straight and cisgender, took an extraordinary on-air stand in support of Mack Beggs, a high school aged female-to-male transgender wrestler who was forced to wrestle on the school's girls' team.
"We have argued long enough about birth certificates," Hansen said during a broadcast which went viral and landed him an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres' chat show."It’s an argument that needs to end. You don’t have to understand – I myself don’t understand. But Mack Beggs is not the problem so many people make him out to be. He’s a child simply looking for his place in the world, and a chance to compete in the world. Do we really not have the simple decency to allow him at least that?"
It was a characteristic stand for Hansen, who was raised in a religious, conservative community. He spoke to SFGN about how and why he expanded his worldview.
"I grew up in a small town in Iowa," Hansen said via phone. "My dad used the "N" word like it was a proper noun. "Yet he thought highly of Rory Matthews, a black man in town. Dad said that the Matthews are different. That kind of logic will twist your mind--it twisted mine."
Hansen also recalled his Navy days, sitting with a group of his buddies in a saloon. A group of noisy black men were seated nearby. "Look at those noisy 'n-word' guys!" said one of Hansen's friends.
"You mean just like us?" replied Hansen, as he walked over to join the black men, who he said were playing better music on the jukebox.
Hansen's career began as a radio DJ in 1973. "I never went to college and bounced around for awhile," he recalled. He became a sportscaster almost by accident when a slot opened up and has been with WFAA for 34 years
"I've always believed that sports is a metaphor for life," he said. "I work for a station which allows me to talk about things that matter more than who won the game."
Hansen added that when he got home from delivering his Beggs speech, there were 110 emails in his inbox. "The next day there were 600, over 1000 by the following afternoon, all of them positive and from all around the country. I stopped counting at 5,000. I've heard from people in 27 countries."
Hansen's circle of friends includes straights and LGBT people of various races and ethnicities, as well as arch conservatives and staunch liberals. He noted that they all break bread together in an environment of mutual respect and that he greatly enjoys being around different kinds of people.
"We're not all crazy in Texas," he said. "We just elect crazies to office. The leaders of the state send the wrong message to the country. We're not that bad. "
Hansen said that he has not heard from Mack Beggs. Prior to his stand for Beggs, Hansen had taken a similar on-air stand for openly gay African American football player Michael Sam.
"Are you sure you're reading the right bible?" Hansen asks of anti-gay conservatives. "I think you're reading the Reader's Digest Condensed version. If there's a problem I'll let God sort it out later."