Can you imagine playing for a team for many years and then suddenly being disqualified for not fitting the sexual orientation requirements of the gay association to which your team belongs?
That’s what happened to three players on the San Francisco D2 Softball Team, costing the team and the players their trophies and financial rewards as second place winners in the 2008 Softball World Series held in Seattle that year under the aegis of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association (NAGAAA).
Steven Apilado, LaRon Charles and Jon Russ had played for D2 for years of not winning big. Then, in 2008 when extra practice paid off for the team and they came in second, the losing team, the Atlanta Mudcats, challenged the D2 win claiming that these three team members were not gay.
This, they said, violated NAGAAA rules requiring that teams have no more than two heterosexual players.
A hastily called protest hearing consisting of some 25 people, many strangers to the accused, questioned the three players and two other teammates about their sexual orientations. The NAGAAA determined that Apilado, Charles and Russ, all men of color, were not gay. The other two players, who were white, were deemed to be gay, raising questions about racism, an issue that was not directly addressed in the case.
In the heat of the questioning session, the three players who spoke about being attracted to “both men and women,” were deemed “not gay.” In fact, one NAGAAA member was quoted as saying “This is the Gay World Series, not the Bisexual World Series.”
The team was disqualified from the tournament, forfeiting their second place honors.
“Actually the NAGAAA rule said nothing about bisexuals or transgender players,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Senior Staff Attorney Chris Stoll. “They defined the rule by members’ predominant sexual attraction to either men or women, not both.”
The three players approached the NCLR for help. The NCLR enlisted the pro bono services of Suzanne Thompson, Senior Partner at K&L Gates’ Seattle office.
Discussions went on for two years without resolution until the NCLR and Gates filed suit against NAGAAA in federal district court in Seattle in 2010.
The case claimed that NAGAAA had violated Washington’s laws regarding discrimination in public accommodations by limiting the number of heterosexuals per team to two. They also charged that NAGAAA had violated the players’ rights by holding the interrogation session.
In a press release issued Nov. 28, the NCLR announced that the NCLR, K&L Gates, LLP and the NAGAAA had reached a settlement in the case, recognizing the team, D2, as a second place winner in the 2008 games, providing the appropriate trophies and rewards, and paying the three men undisclosed amounts of money.
The NAGAAA also agreed that disqualifying the men was not consistent with the organization’s intention of including bisexual players. They expressed regret over the protest hearing and its affect on the players.
It was also noted that in 2011 the NAGAAA had changed its rules to permit an unlimited number of bisexual or transgender players although they have kept the limit of two heterosexuals per team.
According to Stoll the Seattle Court ruled that limiting the number of heterosexuals on the team was protected by the First Amendment but that was not the focus of the suit so it was not pursued.
“It’s an interesting situation all around,” he added. “You can have as many bisexual and transgender players on a team as you want and that’s a good thing for inclusiveness. But still only two heterosexuals seems odd.”
SFGN tried to reach the local NAGAAA affiliate, the South Florida Amateur Athletic Association (SFAAA), for comment on the case from a local perspective but had not received a response by press time.