LGBT baseball fans in West-Central Florida have a chance to show their support next month for the Tampa Bay Rays.
A night geared towards the LGBT community is being organized. Equality Florida, the State’s largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality and justice for LGBT people, is putting together a “Pride Night” June 17 as the Rays host the visiting San Francisco Giants at Tropicana Field.
“The Rays have one of the most progressive front offices in all of baseball,” said Brian Longstreth, a St. Petersburg realtor and Equality Florida supporter. “The organization is completely committed to diversity. They see we do have fans and are involved in the community. It’s a good fit.”
Longstreth said the Rays have welcomed LGBT groups for the last 10 years and the annual pride night typically attracts 200 to 500 people who directly participate. Likewise, the Rays routinely take part in Pride festivities in the Tampa Bay area.
Billy Bean, Major League Baseball’s first ever Ambassador for Inclusion, praised Tampa Bay’s ownership for being a leader in establishing a welcoming workplace. The Rays, Bean said, were one of the first ball clubs to produce an anti-bulling video for the Trevor Project.
“There’s no place for bullying or hatred of LGBT kids or anyone in our society,” said B.J. Upton in the video, first released in 2011. Upton has since been traded to the Atlanta Braves, but the message continues.
“Tampa Bay has a great commitment to workforce diversity,” Bean said in a telephone call from his New York office. “The team is a visible part of the community and serving in many ways every day in the Tampa Bay area.”
Bean, a former outfielder, said he is not holding his breath on if a current Major League Baseball player comes out of the closet.
“That’s a huge personal decision,” Bean said. “It’s a unique situation. Every person has their own way of coming out.”
For professional athletes, Bean said, it is important to consider counseling to determine “if they want to bring that level of media attention into their lives.”
Heading into Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay owned a 14-14 record, good for third place in the American League East standings. Ticket price for Equality Florida’s Pride Night are $99. Longstreth said the seats are field level by the Rays’ bullpen. Once those sellout, $30 seats are available at a higher viewing section. Tropicana Field, Major League Baseball’s smallest stadium, has been home to Tampa ball squad since its inception in 1998.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit EQFL.org or TampaBay.Rays.MLB.com