Even though Mike Law is sitting out some of his volleyball game, he’s still cheering on his team.
“Let’s go Golden Boys, come on,” he shouts from the sidelines. “Ben, what’s the score?”
“13-11,” Benoit Forrest, the team captain replies.
“Good, we’re winning,” says Law as he takes a sip of water and reaches down towards his bag.
“This is the jersey I usually wear,” he says as he unzips his bag and pulls out a crumpled up black and grey jersey. He holds the jersey up, displaying the number four on the back. But the name bar doesn’t say Law, it says Beyoncé.
“Opponents ask me why I’m called Beyoncé,” he says. “It’s obviously because I’m the sexiest and the most talented one in the group.”
The Golden Boys Volleyball played their first exhibition game of the season on Thu. Oct. 2, 2014 at Soul Sanctuary Church.
Law is the only remaining original members of the Golden Boys, an all-gay, Winnipeg based volleyball team established in 1993 that competes in the Winnipeg Men’s League.
The Golden Boys are all gay men except for one straight player.
“We’ve never had any troubles with the men’s league,” says Law. “Everyone knows we’re all gay. I mean, come on, we’re called the Golden Boys. It just sounds gay.”
Eric Anderson is a professor of masculinity, sexuality and sport at the University of Winchester in the United Kingdom. He has written six books that directly deal with homophobia and sexuality in sports.
“If a single drop of homophobia exists in the millions of sporting environments out there, it’s a problem, but it’s a declining problem.”
Professional sports teams have taken steps to combat homophobia in their locker rooms. A lot of teams have lent their support to the You Can Play project organized by Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke and his father Brian Burke.
The You Can Play project was started to combat homophobia in sports with a focus on the abilities of the athlete, and not their sexuality. They released their first video, The Faceoff, in 2012 when they aired a commercial during the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic game. The commercial featured NHL players such as Joffery Lupul, Claude Giroux, Duncan Keith and Henrik Lundquist.
All 30 NHL teams, as well as players such Steven Stamkos, Ryan Kesler and Winnipeg Jet Dustin Byfuglien, have pledged their support
This project is positive and helpful, according to Anderson. However, he says every player’s experience is different and acceptance should be spread at local levels.
“It’s nice that something like that is out there intending to do good,” he says. “But if you live in a place that isn’t very accepting you’re probably not going to come out, regardless of what professional athletes say.”
Law figures he’s never encountered any homophobia in his experience with sports because he was in the closet until later in life.
“I didn’t come out until well after high school,” he says. “For adults I don’t think it’s as much of a problem, but younger kids are more immature.”
Adam Brandt, a 23-year-old Red River College student can attest to that.
When he was in middle school, Brandt enjoyed playing soccer, badminton and volleyball. But when he entered high school, he started to gravitate away from team sports.
“Grade nine was around the time I hit puberty and realized I wasn’t heterosexual,” says Brandt. “People would say things like ‘that’s so gay’ and it made me feel bad.
“I made an effort to stay away from team sports,” he continues. “Stuff like that made me feel uncomfortable and I didn’t feel safe in that environment.”
Winnipeg does have a recreational sports organization called Out There Sports & Recreation, for LGBT athletes. It offers different sports for gay athletes.
Brandt says he would consider getting back into team sports if he were to someday enter a safer environment like Out There.
“It’s comforting there’s a safe place for homosexual athletes,” he says. “Then you’ll always have someone to talk to if you have issues.”
Anderson thinks cases similar to Brandt’s are diminishing in sports culture and people are becoming more accepting. Though the problem is not completely gone.
“I used to think sports was a social anchor for the gay movement but now it’s becoming a powerful tool,” says Anderson. “Homosexuality used to be stigmatized, but now homophobia is what’s becoming stigmatized.”
All photos by Stephen Burns
This is the 1st article in a series by Stephen Burns on sexual orientation in sports. You can read the other articles in which Burns profiles several gay athletes and examines their journey through the world of sports, by clicking on this link here: Out of the closet and off the bench