I love San Francisco. I lived there for almost four decades, and I definitely left my heart behind when I moved away last year. Its acceptance of all things different is unparalleled. I love it that little old straight ladies on the bus scold young tourists for disparaging leather men. I love it that when the occasional naked person shows up in a crosswalk, nobody bats an eye. I love it that you can indulge in the five basic food groups -- Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Japanese and Californian -- all at cheap, reasonable rates. I love it that stores stock size-14 spiked heels for all the drag queens who need them. I love it that a former employee of mine used to bring her whip to work and ask to leave early so that she could go to a "party."
And I love the 49ers. I jumped off the couch and danced with my girlfriend when Dwight Clark made "The Catch" that propelled us to our first Super Bowl with Joe Montana in 1982. In another Super Bowl a few years later, when it was fourth down and 15 to go and we were behind with just seconds on the clock, I was part of a large group of women who had pretty much stopped breathing. (But we won!) Every season I spend an entire week bitching about blown calls that give the game away, until the next game comes along and the refs commit another travesty. And I hate East Coast announcers, blind to our glory. I used to know all the player stats and details, and I thought they had cute asses in their tight pants. (These are guys! Like, why do I care?)
So it broke my heart when the Niners set themselves up for the entire LGBTQ community to root against them in yesterday's Super Bowl. I grudgingly read the blog post by HuffPost Gay Voices' esteemed editor-at-large Michelangelo Signorile and really hated that he had a point: The Niners should not tolerate Chris Culliver's ignorant, fear-based tirade against gay athletes or the fact that Culliver's subsequent, weak-ass apology was clearly written by a mindless, clueless drone in the front office.
I want the Niners and Culliver to understand the gravity of Culliver's ignorance and bigotry and the toll it takes, particularly on LGBTQ youth. I want the Niners held accountable for the injury added by the other players who now claim that they never meant to support bullied gay kids when the team shot an It Gets Better video last summer.
So on Friday afternoon I called Out & Equal, a national LGBTQ advocacy agency based in San Francisco that, according to its mission statement, "is committed to creating safe and equitable workplace environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees. We believe that people should be judged by the work they do, not by their sexual orientation or gender identity." They are ready to work with the 49ers, who heretofore had been known as an LGBT-friendly organization.
"Our experience in working with employers is often that they lack the education and tools they need to create a workplace that is consistent with their values," says Selisse Berry, Out & Equal's executive director. "Certain industries like tech, financial services, and accounting have been trailblazers. Others, like professional sports, are the next frontier, as respect for LGBT athletes becomes a reality on the field and, yes, even in the locker room."
Selisse says that Out & Equal stands "ready to work with those in professional sports who are on the road to creating truly inclusive workplaces. The news from the 49ers camp reinforces the importance of having the right organizational policies in place and continued education at all levels of the organization to reinforce the culture that makes for a championship team."
So let that be the solution to this problem. I'm happy that Chris Culliver and the others got to play their hearts out in the Super Bowl. But let that be the last game they played in ignorance. Let the 49ers bring in specialists like Out & Equal to run a workplace education program. When training camp opens next year, the first order of business needs to be fundamental diversity training. One session won't do it. Training must include managers, players and staff at all levels. They need to make it an ongoing theme of team development.
Homophobia obviously runs deep in the organization and has been ignored in pursuit of championship football. And that's just awful. I really hoped that the 49ers would win the Super Bowl yesterday, but just as much, I hope that they take the opportunity to become true, vocal champions for gay people in sports. It's a memorable goal, worthy of the team that represents San Francisco and everything it stands for.