It was a historic night, Oct. 4, for the Los Angeles Lakers as the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles stole the spotlight at Staples Center and performed the national anthem, celebrating the teams first-ever LGBT Pride Night.
The Lakers’ event follows in the footsteps of similar events held by other professional sports teams in the Los Angeles area like baseball’s Dodgers and soccer’s Galaxy and at other prominent franchises around the country.
As the pre-season game between Los Angeles and Sacramento got underway, GMCLA emerged from the tunnel amidst multi-colored strobe lights and massive screens showing the Lakers logo in rainbow colors, a ribbon of pride encircling an iconic arena’s middle tier.
After arriving at center court, they performed a rousing choral rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, complete with multilevel, soaring harmonies.
Former NBA player Jason Collins, the first openly gay professional male athlete in America to come out while still playing, was also honored after the first quarter of the game with the Lace of Unity Award to warm applause from the crowd (and loud cheers from the Gay Men’s Chorus, seated high above the arena floor). Collins came out publicly in 2013, and now serves as an NBA Cares Ambassador after playing for 13 years in the league.
“Being a native son of LA, I remember as a kid going to so many LA Laker games and now to see the Lakers stepping forward and supporting the LGBT community in such a visible way is awesome,” Collins told the Los Angeles Blade.
The Gay Men’s Chorus and their attending fans and friends said LGBT nights in professional sports are a welcome sign of social progress.
Jonathan Weedman, Executive Director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, said, “This is important to us because it’s the first Pride Night for the LA Lakers and they invited us to perform. It’s one of the things GMCLA does – we love being at the forefront of cutting edge issues.”
Daniel Brown is a member of the Gay Men’s Chorus and a former national gymnast. “The journey of being out in sports has been an interesting process,” he said. ” I remember a time when you didn’t bring your whole self to your sport, so the fact that the Lakers are doing something for and reaching out to the LGBT community is an amazing thing. To be honest, I don’t know that I would’ve thought that would be where sports went when I was a young man.”
Will Cabrera, also of the Chorus, expressed hope that this event can serve as a platform for growth in the future both in LA and in smaller markets. Cabrera said, “Hopefully they’ll move their LGBT Night to the regular season from the pre-season so it can get more coverage and exposure to show how engaging in the community the Lakers organization is.”
The Los Angeles Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss has broken ground in shepherding her teams support of LGBT rights before, purchasing the first Los Angeles area professional sports team advertising in the gay press. The full page ad series appeared in Los Angeles Blade Pride editions in June 2017 and June 2018. Her effort lead to ads from every professional sports teams in the newspaper’s 2017 Pride issue.
The entire audience seemed to have a positive reaction.
The near-capacity attendance erupted in cheers as the Gay Men’s Chorus finished their performance and thousands enthusiastically wore the free Lakers Pride shirts provided by the the team and UCLA Health, although some seemed not to have noticed the Pride Night festivities.
During the fourth quarter Kiss Cam, shows of affection by same-sex couples easily gained the most enthusiastic crowd response. Jason Collins received cheers rivaling those given to LeBron James when he appeared to the crowd, and the fans roared in recognition of gay anthems backing Lakers Girls performances and Fan Cam moments.
There was an element, though subtle of politics. In his pre-game warm up, GMCLA’s artistic director, Dr. Joe Nadeau, acknowledged the protests by many NFL and NBA players, instructing Chorus members to link arms while singing the national anthem.
Linking arms or taking a knee, a protest against racial inequality and police brutality toward African Americans started by Colin Kaepernick is also meant to solidarity with the equality movement.
“It’s powerful what all these athletes are doing,” LeBron James told ABC News. “It’s not about the disrespect of our flag and the military that’s made this world free.”
“We are going to show solidarity with the athletes and take a cue from them. We will sing the national anthem with our hands to our side. When you get to “and the rockets red flare,” GMCLA’s Nadeau told the Chorus at a center court rehearsal before the show, “do not look at the person next to you, just link arms.”
For all the festivities surrounding this event, it seemed that many members of the public who spoke with the Los Angeles Blade were unaware of the festivities, despite the many LGBT-centered aspects of the off-court happenings.
Some general audience members refused to speak with the Los Angeles Blade at the mention of the words “Pride Night.”
Still, it was a history making night and the Lakers celebrated with a win.
After leading 67-66 at halftime, they escaped with a 128-123 win over the Sacramento Kings.
And it was up to the new guy in town, LeBron James, to save the game. He finished with 18 points.