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Hollywood still only whiffing diversity

Issues of representation still haunt Hollywood

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Moonlight, gay news, Washington Blade

Remember that shockingly dramatic Oscars night last February when presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced “La La Land” best picture—only to have the card actually say “Moonlight.” Almost everyone cheered as if Hollywood had turned the corner on showcasing diversity, behind and in front of the camera. Except longing is not reality.

“La La Land” was the favorite to win—white straight romantic dancing couple versus the black gay guy coming out over a span of difficult years—why wouldn’t the world expect the white guys to win?

But that’s not what happened that night. In fact, as New York Times critic A.O. Scott put it the next day, the night really was a heartfelt embrace of diversity.

“But in its own way, last night’s spectacle — so relatively smooth, until all of a sudden it was anything but — represents a Hollywood watershed or, at least, like the original “Bonnie and Clyde,” the arrival of a new generation. The envelope mix-up was painful, but it brought to the stage two directors in their 30s with five features between them and reminded the audience that Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins are not enemies,” Scott wrote. “The grace with which the “La La Land” producers (Jordan Horowitz, in particular) handled the handoff — and the poise with which Mr. Jenkins and his producer, Adele Romanski, received the belated honor for “Moonlight” — should quell the facile polarization that followed the two movies throughout the awards season. And the messiness of the finale makes vivid what turned out to be the theme and the true political message of the night, which was inclusiveness.”

Yeah, but a new report released Tuesday indicates that white straight men still seriously dominate the industry—with LGBT representation a scant 1.1 percent.

The report, “Inequality in 900 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, LGBT, and Disability from 2007-2016,” was produced by the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The bottom line: there has been no significant change in the representation of women and minorities— with “white, straight, able-bodied men remaining the norm on screen in film.”

(Graphic courtesy Williams Institute )

So that’s over an almost 10 year period. Surely 2016 was better. Not really. The team looked at the top 100 movies of that year and found that only 31.4% of A total of 4,583 speaking characters were women— a statistic that has not changed “meaningfully” over the 9 years evaluated.

Non-white groups accounted for 29.1% of characters, of whom 13.6% were black and 5.7% were Asian. Hispanic/Latinos were 3.1% of characters with more than half of all 2016 films featuring no Latinos. People with disabilities had only 2.7% of speaking characters.

(Graphic courtesy Williams Institute )

But, despite “Moonlight,” only 1.1% of 4,5444 speaking characters were identifiably LGB, the majority, 36, were gay men (36), with 9 lesbians, and 6 bisexuals. “Not one character acorss the 100 top movies of 2016 was coded as transgender!” the report says. And only one film, “Moonlight,” featured a gay protagonist.

But that film won an Oscar that year!

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Four Olympics, 13 years, and now a Gold Medal for Tom Daley

“I hope any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone. You can achieve anything.”

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British Olympic Diving Duo Matty Lee and Tom Daley (Photo Credit: Daley Instagram)

TOKYO – Standing there on the podium with tears forming in his eyes, a masked for Covid-19 British Olympic diver Tom Daley saw his dreams of Olympic Gold finally come true Monday. Watching a live-stream of the event intently, at the moment Daley secured his victory, Tom’s husband, writer Lance Black and Tom’s mother took in the results and jumped up screaming in joy.

Daley along with his British teammate diving partner Matty Lee won the gold with a score of 471.81 in the men’s synchronized diving on Monday at Tokyo 2020 narrowly besting the defending champions, China’s Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen by just 1.23 points.

“I still can’t honestly believe what is happening,” Daley told BBC Sport. “That moment, being about to be announced as Olympic champions, I was gone. I was blubbering.” 

Daley tells young LGBTQ people: “You can achieve anything”

Later at a press conference, Daley, an openly gay athlete talked about the experience of being gay and at the games;

“In terms of out athletes, there are more openly out athletes at these Olympic Games than any Olympic Games previously. I came out in 2013 and when I was younger I always felt like the one that was alone and different and didn’t fit. There was something about me that was never going to be as good as what society wanted me to be. I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone. You can achieve anything.”

Great Britain’s Tom Daley, Matty Lee nail final dive to win gold | Tokyo Olympics | NBC Sports

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Out athletes going for summer Olympic gold

At least 142 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes are headed to Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games

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Michael Gunning narrowly missed out on qualifying for this year’s Olympic Games. (Photo courtesy Gunning)

By Kevin Majoros | WASHINGTON – The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games began on June 23, with competitions continuing through Aug. 8. The Games were postponed in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many aspiring Olympians, the quadrennial event is the culmination of a lifetime of sacrifices to compete against the best athletes in the world while representing their country on an international stage.

The road to get there is filled with obstacles and this Olympic cycle produced one more barrier in the form of training disruptions that happened in almost every sport.

After all the dust settled during the qualifying process, 627 athletes were named to Team USA. More than 30 of those athletes are out members of the LGBTQ community. 

Regarding the other countries competing, according to a recent story by Outsports, “At least 142 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes are headed to Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games.”

Flashback to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when a correspondent from The Daily Beast used hook-up apps such as Bumble, Tindr, Grindr, and Jack’d to message gay athletes. His published story went on to describe the athletes, creating potentially dangerous situations for the athletes from countries with high anti-LGBTQ violence rates.

What should we expect from the environment in Japan? 

There have been a handful of Japanese athletes who have come out recently but for the most part, they are competing in other countries – notably trans soccer star Kumi Yokoyama who plays for the Washington Spirit and out lesbian Shiho Shimoyamada who plays soccer for SV Meppen in Germany.

LGBTQ activists in Japan were hoping that the worldwide attention on the Tokyo Olympics would help push their ruling Liberal Democratic Party to pass EqualityActJapan banning discrimination against LGBTQ people. Their legislature went into recess without passing the measure.

That setback did not stop Pride House Tokyo Legacy from opening in October 2020 in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It will serve as a permanent LGBTQ support center where individuals can feel safe and at home.

Pride House Tokyo Legacy has been authorized as part of the Tokyo 2020 Official Program by the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games along with full support from the International Olympic Committee. Those endorsements make it the first Pride House worldwide to achieve this status.

Visibility for the LGBTQ community is important for a variety of reasons and in the sports world, we tend to point to LGBTQ athletes as role models for younger generations. 

Over the next few weeks we will bear witness to the first transgender athlete to compete in Laurel Hubbard as a weightlifter for Team New Zealand. 

We will watch lesbian triple jumper Yulimar Rojas compete and carry the flag for her country of Venezuela in the Parade of Nations. 

And we will sit enthralled as gay British Olympic diver Tom Daley is cheered on by his three-year-old son Robbie as he attempts to medal again in his fourth Olympics.

The last time the Blade checked in with out Tongan swimmer Amini Fonua, he was in heavy training to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and struggling with the funding needed to complete that journey.

Fonua was one of the Olympic athletes that spoke out against The Daily Beast story from 2016, which helped to get the story retracted, with an apology. It was the first instance where the International Olympic Committee, which also chimed in, had ever acknowledged an LGBTQ presence. 

Amini Fonua qualified for his third Olympics this year. (Photo courtesy Fonua)

When the pandemic hit, Fonua’s training pool closed and his income from teaching swimming lessons dried up. In an effort to be closer to his training group, New York Athletic Club, he moved from New Jersey to New York City mid-pandemic.

To stay in shape, he ramped up his time spent on weight training, running, biking, and yoga.

“The pandemic changed a lot of things for all of us,” says Fonua. “This past year has been about survival, and I have done my best with what I have been given.”

Eventually pools opened back up with limits on swimmers per lane and time spent in the water. Fonua was only allowed four 45-minute swim practices per week, which is well below the amount of time that elite swimmers spend in the pool.

He also found employment with Fitter and Faster Swim Camps with all of his travel to swim camps completed by train to minimize his exposure to the virus. 

As of May 2021, Fonua was not the top Tongan swimmer that would be selected for the Olympic team. He was also facing swim meet entry barriers due to COVID restrictions to even compete for a spot on the team.

In smaller nations and those with developing swim programs, the international federation for swimming, FINA, and the International Olympic Committee allow for universalityentries into the Olympics. 

The universality system allows a nation with no Olympic swimming qualifier to enter up to one man and one woman in the Olympics. The two swimmers are chosen based on FINA points, which are calculated using a cubic curve.

Fonua received a last minute entry to the Atlanta Classic swim meet on May 14 where he would have one last shot to make the team. He threw down a time in the 100 meter breaststroke that moved him past the top Tongan swimmer based on FINA points and qualified him for his third Olympics.

For this Olympic experience, Fonua will be thinking about what his father always says to him regarding sports — be competitive, do your best, and have fun.

“I will be staying in the Olympic Village but there won’t be any Grindr this time because I am in love. I will be racing on the 24th and still hope to walk in the Parade of Nations the night before,” Fonua says. “My mom is the team manager for the Tongan swim team, and I am looking forward to cups of tea with her and visiting Pride House Tokyo. I know it will be different this time because of COVID, but there is nothing like experiencing a city hosting the Olympics.”

When you receive an email from out swimmer Michael Gunning, the signature line says Professional Athlete. He laughs when asked about it and says it is a continuation of what he used to write on his school essays — Michael Gunning, The Swimmer.

Gunning, who currently trains in Manchester, England, became fully committed to swimming at age 13 when he won a national competition in England. A few years later he was representing Great Britain on their junior national team.

“We have all heard that Black people don’t swim, and I wanted to prove it could be done,” says Gunning. “I began chasing those Olympic dreams at every event I swam in.”

Despite swimming well in the 200 meter butterfly in the qualifying trials for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, he was left off the Great Britain team.

Jamaica reached out and said they would love for Gunning to swim for them (his father was born in Jamaica). He represented the country for the first time at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest and again at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju.

“I was really on the fence before saying yes. I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously in the UK and this was an opportunity to do my bit and inspire,” Gunning says. “That first experience in Budapest was amazing. The Jamaican team accepted me, and I finally felt good enough.”

When the Blade last checked in with Gunning, he was pointing toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. At that time, he was the top Jamaican point earner if it came down to a FINA universality selection for the Olympics.

Then the pandemic hit. Gunning was out of the water for more than 100 days and scrambling to stay in shape with dryland training.

“Those were dark and desperate times,” says Gunning. “Once I was able to get back in the water, I trained by myself for 20 weeks.”

With COVID barriers for training and competitions, Gunning knew all along that another Jamaican swimmer could top his FINA points. 

And then it happened. 

FINA adjusted their earned points for the 200 meter butterfly downward and another swimmer earned more points in the 200 meter IM.

Gunning had one last shot in June at a meet in Glasgow but did not swim near his best times. He received the news earlier this month that he was not selected for the team.

“Swimming shapes you as a person. Whether you reach your end goals or not, you are so much stronger for it. I don’t regret any of the hard work I put in,” Gunning says. “Swimming prompted me to come out – swimming gave me that. We still need diversity and inclusion, especially at the grass roots level. I want to be that representation.”

With the news being so fresh, Gunning is unclear on his long term path in the pool. He will continue to teach swimming and field offers that come his way. Next year, he will be a Pride House ambassador at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

“The Olympics make role models, and I am excited to support and cheer for the LGBTQ athletes who are competing,” says Gunning. “For now, I am going to live every day, one day at a time, being myself and being authentic.”

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Gay cheer coach fired at Murrieta Valley HS, Team wants him back

Henderson’s sexuality was the basis of his dismissal, his attorney said. He called the investigation into the anonymous letter “improper.”

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Students rally in support of their coach (Photo by Toni McAllister/PATCH)

By Toni McAllister | MURRIETA, CA — Murrieta Valley High School fired Michael Henderson, head coach of cheer and stunt program, after he served three years in that job.

The coach, 31, believes he was fired because he is gay. He filed a wrongful termination lawsuit alleging that the process leading to his dismissal was “flawed.”

Many of his student athletes and their families agreed.

Michael Henderson sued the high school, arguing wrongful termination based on his sexual orientation.

They gathered Wednesday afternoon at a rally at the high school in support of the coach. About two dozen student athletes and family members wearing the MVHS Nighthawks’ red and black colors turned out with signs that read, “Bring Back Coach Mike.” Many passing motorists honked, although it’s unclear if the drivers knew what the hubbub was about.

The coach’s tenure at the high school put the school in the national cheerleading spotlight. Victories include fourth-place finalist in the 2021 National High School Cheerleading Championship and sixth-place finalist the year before, among other titles.

Senior Kendell Winters started on the cheer team her freshman year under a different coach; Henderson came in shortly thereafter. She described “Coach Mike” as a tough leader who “has our best interests at heart.”

“He always wants the best for you,” she said. “I hope we’re able to get him back.”

Henderson described his reaction to the June 16 dismissal as simply “shock.” Just eight days earlier, he received a “glowing” end-of-season review from high school Athletic Director Darin Mott and Principal Ryan Tukua, he said.

“There was no hint that anything was wrong,” Henderson said.

But two days later, on June 10, Mott told the coach that someone sent an anonymous complaint letter against him. Officials told him that an investigation was launched and that he just needed to sit tight.

“I never saw the letter,” Henderson said. “I wasn’t even given a chance to respond. I was never interviewed about any of it.”

Instead, on the day of his dismissal, district officials told him he was being let go because the cheer program “was taking a different direction,” he said.

Murrieta Valley Unified School District declined to comment on Henderson’s firing. “State employment and federal privacy laws prohibit the comment and/or discussion of specific personnel actions,” spokesperson Monica Gutierrez said.

Henderson’s sexuality was the basis of his dismissal, his attorney, Terry Davis, said. He called the investigation into the anonymous letter “improper.”

“The anonymous letter was sent to MVUSD by what is believed to be a couple of disgruntled cheer parents who were angry with their child’s position or participation level in the team,” Davis said.

The investigation into the letter “was spearheaded by devout Mormon MVUSD Board Member Paul Diffley, who made calls to several unnamed sources impeding due process of the investigation,” Davis said. “One question related to his sexual orientation raised red flags, leading many to believe that it was a substantial factor in the district’s decision to terminate Mr. Henderson’s employment.”

Diffley told Patch that the matter was a personnel issue in litigation and declined further comment.

Patch was unable to track down student athletes and/or family members who may have been unhappy with Henderson’s performance.

The new 2021-’22 cheer season has just started, so it’s unclear what changes, if any, will come at the high school.

Kim Altenhofel, a cheer parent and president of the school’s cheer booster club, said Tukua contacted her twice and Diffley spoke with her once as part of the investigation into Henderson.

In all of the conversations, the officials were seeking feedback about the cheer program and the coach, she said. The investigation seemed to center on allegations of verbal and mental abuse by Henderson, she said.

Altenhofel insisted she never witnessed any abusive behavior by the coach.

“The kids loved him. They are heartbroken,” she said.

Rick Winters, Kendell Winters’ father, said he was never contacted by anyone within the district. He said Henderson was wronged.

“My daughter excelled in his program,” Rick Winters said. Student athletes were expected to maintain good grades and participate in team events under Henderson, he added.

“Coach Mike had high expectations, but I want that for my kids. That is real life,” Rick Winters said.

A June 17 MVUSD Board of Trustees meeting was packed with MVHS cheer athletes and their families, who spoke in support of Henderson. Because his dismissal was not on the meeting agenda, the trustees were prohibited from addressing the comments.

Henderson continued to coach several of his student athletes off campus at Corona-based Prime Cheer and Stunt.

Toni McAllister has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has been on editorial staffs with a number of national and local media outlets. She is a graduate of Cal State Long Beach with bachelor’s degree in journalism. Reach her at [email protected]

The preceding article was previously published at PATCH and is republished by permission.

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