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Suit involving bisexual softball players results in settlement
News update posted Nov. 29, 2011
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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A settlement has been reached in the federal lawsuit brought by three bisexual softball players whose team was disqualified from competition following a protest hearing at the 2008 Gay Softball World Series, played in Seattle, it was announced Monday.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights ( NCLR ) filed the lawsuit in April 2010 in Federal Court after the Washington Human Rights Commission decided to pass on the case. The plaintiffs asserted various discrimination and privacy claims against NAGAAA, and asked the court to bar the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance ( NAGAAA ) , which hosts the annual event, from enforcing its rule in any future Gay Softball World Series.

In the settlement, according to NCLR, NAGAAA recognized that disqualifying the players 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. Plus, NAGAAA expressed regret at the impact the 2008 protest hearing process had on the players and their team, according to the NCLR. NAGAAA confirmed that its records will be amended to reflect the players' participation in 2008, including the results of all games played by their team.

The 2011 NAGAAA World Series was held this summer in Chicago and though teams were disqualified this year too, no team or players were removed from competition based on a player's sexual orientation.

NAGAAA changed its rules in 2011 to be fully inclusive of all bisexual and transgender players. The rule changes permit an unlimited number of bisexual or transgender players to participate on a Gay Softball World Series team.

"We have been vindicated by the judge's First Amendment rulings," Roy Melani, NAGAAA commissioner, said in a statement. "This lawsuit threatened not only the purpose of our organization, but also its future. We fought hard to protect ourselves and our core identity and I am relieved this issue is finally behind us.

"It's the Gay Softball World Series. It's important we defend our right to maintain that identity. How else could we send our message that openly LGBT athletes can excel at team sports? We are a thriving and vibrant community. We compete. We socialize. We look after each other.

"This [ settlement ] is a complete win for us," Melani said.

The three plaintiffs had been playing together in the San Francisco Gay Softball League for years. Their team had gone to the Gay Softball World Series before, but had never finished better than fourth-place. In 2008, the team made it to the championship game; however, their eligibility to play was challenged based on a NAGAAA rule at the time limiting the number of non-gay players who could play on a World Series team.

NAGAAA's protest committee voted that the three plaintiffs were "believed to be heterosexual," according to the NCLR, and their team was disqualified from its second-place finish.

The three plaintiffs have now identified themselves as bisexual, but they did not do so during 2008 protest hearing or in their original complaints, NAGAAA officials said. "If all three players had just said they were bisexual at the time, the lawsuit would never have happened," Melani said.

"It means a lot to me that NAGAAA is going to recognize our second-place finish in 2008," LaRon Charles, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement. "I am happy NAGAAA has also made rule changes to let players like me know they are welcome. I look forward to continuing to play ball with my friends, teammates and community in NAGAAA's tournaments."

"As a result of this case, NAGAAA has clarified that all bisexual and transgender people are welcome to play at its tournaments as full members of the LGBT community," NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter said in a statement. "Every LGBT organization should strive to be a safe and affirming space for everyone, including bisexual and transgender people, people of color, and those who are questioning their sexual orientation. NAGAAA's decision to amend its rules is a welcome step in that direction."

The 2012 Gay Softball World Series will be held in Minneapolis, and will feature a panel discussion about different ways to create and maintain LGBT inclusive sports organizations, including discussing participation rules based on sexual orientation, and ways to eradicate homophobia and discrimination.

NAGAAA's executive board sent an open letter to all 41 member leagues, including Chicago, and also posted the two-page statement on its website. NAGAAA wrote:

"It's over! We are pleased to announce that after a series of court rulings in favor of NAGAAA, the parties have reached a final settlement in a lawsuit that had questioned the legality of NAGAAA's rules regarding the Gay Softball World Series ( GSWS ) . The Court has vindicated NAGAAA's First Amendment right to determine for itself how to fulfill the organization's mission. NAGAAA's mission is to serve the LGBT community and to send a message through the annual Gay Softball World Series that athletes can play competitive team sports as openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. In order to fulfill its mission, NAGAAA has adopted a rule that the majority of players on teams competing at the annual Gay Softball World Series must be athletes who identify as members of the LGBT community. Any individual player can play in the Gay Softball World Series, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, but team rosters must comply with various eligibility rules, including Rule 7.05 of the NAGAAA Softball Code, which limits the participation of non-LGBT players to only two per team."

Jack Neilsen, commissioner of Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ) open division softball and NAGAAA representative for Chicago, was the lead Chicagoan responsible for Chicago's bid to host the 2011 Series. On Monday, he said, "I am excited to see that the lawsuit has come to a close. I look forward to the organization moving forward without the lawsuit looming over our heads."

"Major League Baseball owners and players are to be commended for taking a leadership role against discrimination against anyone based on their sexual orientation," said Cubs owner Laura Ricketts. "The great American pastime has continued with its tradition of taking a stand for equal opportunity and fairness and my family and I are proud to be a part of it."

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