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The NFL embraces LGBTQ+ inclusion ahead of Super Bowl LVI

“LGBTQ athletes need to see more stories of athletes like them supported by their teammates because many are accepted just as they are”



View of branding during A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for GLAAD)

LOS ANGELES – LGBTQ+ History was made Thursday night atop the National Football League’s Los Angeles headquarters rooftop, overlooking the glittering new SoFi Stadium, site of Super Bowl LVI, as about 150 NFL players, sports professionals and fans mingled with supporters of GLAAD to celebrate the league’s now very public embrace of the LGBTQ+ community.

GLAAD and the National Football League (NFL) hosted ‘A Night of Pride,’ sponsored by Pepsi Stronger Together, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood California.

Jonathan Beane, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at National Football League (NFL) welcomed the crowd and minced no words. 

“This is long overdue, isn’t it?” he exclaimed, referring to the league’s commitment to the LGBTQ community. “This (event)  is just the beginning; there’s a lot more that we’re going to do as a league.” 

LGBTQ community icon and LA Dodger Baseball team owner Billy Jean King, the first female athlete to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for instance, has been selected as a Legendary Coin Toss Captain on Sunday.

Tennis Icon Billie Jean King and her longtime partner Ilana Kloss.
(Photo courtesy of Major League Baseball Inc/The Los Angeles Dodgers)

“LGBTQ athletes need to see more stories of athletes like them, who are supported by their teammates, because so many of them are accepted, just as they are,” GLAAD Deputy President and COO Darra Gordon said in her remarks. “I hope young LGBTQ athletes see posts from tonight and know that they have a rightful place to be out in the NFL, in football, in sports, and at any cultural milestone they aim for.”

LZ Granderson, host of the ABC News podcast ‘Life Out Loud with LZ Granderson, moderated a discussion of LGBTQ inclusion in the NFL featuring out NFL Legend Ryan O’Callaghan and NFL free agent R.K. Russell, who came out as bi in 2019.

R.K., aka Ryan Russell, who is one of more than 20 players in NFL history to come out as gay or bisexual (with Michael Sam and Carl Nassib, he is one of three to do so before retiring) and O’Callaghan (who played six seasons with the NFL retiring in 2012) tackled the hard stuff.

O’Callaghan says, in his day, he never imagined a moment like this would be possible, “not a chance in hell” that there could ever be such a full on embrace of LGBTQ identity and players by the NFL. 

“Back then” he said, “they didn’t do anything much at all.  Especially not publicly. Up until the last few years, the NFL was absent (on LGBT issues).”

O’Callaghan, who came to the GLAAD event from the prestigious annual NFL Honors awards that bestows MVP Award, Players of the Year, etc, reported significant news of a very public LGBTQ moment.

(L-R) LZ Granderson, R.K. Russell and Ryan O’Callaghan speak onstage during A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
(Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for GLAAD)

During the Honors event, the LGBTQ community was also honored with a video montage of thanks from out gay and bisexual players, honoring Carl Nassib.  

“A few months ago we filmed a piece for the NFL Network for their 360 show talking about LGBTQ in sports and the work of the Trevor Project. They had another player, Michael Irving — his brother is gay — and four us (from the NFL 360 segment) appear (tonight) onstage.”

They received a standing ovation. 

“It was very powerful,” he said, “a big step for the NFL to broadcast that to America.”

“What they did tonight was a whole other step,” O’Callaghan said of the world wide television broadcast.

Moderator Gunderson seized the moment with an obvious question: “Are we done or is this like the Obama moment where we got the Black man in the White House but racism is still hanging around.”

R.K. Russell attends A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for GLAAD)

Russell jumped at the chance to answer, saying “Things are certainly accelerating. As a generation of sports fans, as writers, as journalists, as athletes, we want to see ourselves in the game because we’ve always been there, because  we built this game — honestly.”

“With the Black Lives Matters movement, seeing players really take a stand we know we are more than just these athletes. We are more than these titles. When we step off the field, we take those helmets off, I am a Black man and I am a bi-sexual man. That carries with me everywhere I go. I don’t have to wear a jersey for that.”

“But when I do wear that jersey you need to know that and respect that. You can either ride with me or not,” he said, adding “I think we’re just getting started.”

“But,” moderator Granderson ominously asked, “Where are we going?”

“We’ve got a race issue still in the NFL,” he continued. “If a league that is 70 percent openly Black can’t confront racism issues then how do you think a league that has one openly gay player has addressed its homophobia issues?”

“I think that’s where the community, the writers, people like us keep the league accountable as well,” said Russell. “It’s about holding them accountable and we need to see that from everybody — players, coaches, staff, journalists, fans. Keep the NFL to its word.” 

Russell said that Covid downtime had helped people realize that “surface level, performative” actions are not enough. 

“That’s not going to cut it anymore,” he said. “We want to see Black head coaches, we want to see out players, we want to see it in the media, on the field, we want to see you actually do the things you say you’re going to do.”

Asked if he felt the LGBT highlight moment during the evening’s Honors award was performative or a significant step forward, O’Callaghan said he felt “it was genuinely sincere” and that while it was perhaps the most significant thing the league had done to date, it was not the only thing.

O’Callaghan talked about the league’s sponsorship of New York’s Heritage of Pride and float entries into its parade. “They started with small things like that and doing things on social media and the NFL network, changing the logo during Pride month and sharing that on social media.”

“Now it’s kind of expected.,” O’Callaghan said. “The hardest thing was the first step.”

“Doing what they did tonight at Honors, and this party…I’m sure they will be participating in the parades again this year,” he said.

O’Callaghan pointed out that in 2021 the NFL and the Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill sponsored the National Gay Flag Football Super Bowl in Tempe. “It means the world to have the NFL and a team owner supporting LGBT players and fans,” he said.

Of course the evening was wrapped around the Super Bowl, an event that may champion triumph over adversity but also, famously, a commercial opportunity that has in recent years also found marketers paying millions of dollars for seconds long TV commercials that often celebrate cultural issues.

GLAAD’s Visibility Project, a program dedicated to growing LGBTQ inclusion in advertising, announced today that LGBTQ people and issues will be nearly invisible during Super Bowl LVI ads, with only one ad that expressly features LGBTQ people or issues released prior to the Sunday broadcast. The ad for the Google Pixel 6 features a queer couple.

Additionally, Vrbo will air a LGBTQ-inclusive pre-game ad. In 2020, at least-eleven LGBTQ-inclusive ads from Amazon Alexa, Budweiser, Doritos, HGTV, Microsoft, Olay, Pop Tarts, Sabra, Tide, TurboTax, and Under Armour aired during Super Bowl LIV. In 2021, at least four LGBTQ-inclusive ads from M&M’s, Michelob ULTRA, Logitech, and Paramount + aired during Super Bowl LV. GLAAD will track ads during Super Bowl LVI at and release a comprehensive list following the game.

(L-R) Deputy President of GLAAD Darra Gordon, Brent Miller, Jari Jones, and GLAAD Head of Talent Anthony Allen Ramos attend A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for GLAAD)

GLAAD Board Chair Pamela Stewart moderated a panel on LGBTQ inclusion in advertising featuring Mohit Jolly, Senior Director of Marketing for the Global Ads Marketing Organization at Google, trans actress model and producer Jari Jones, and Brent Miller, Senior Director for Global LGBTQ Equality at P&G.

P&G’s Miller told the story of an 18 year old youth from North Carolina who sent him a letter praising a 2018 Olympics ad in which out gay Olympic gold medalist Gus Kenworthy’s coming out story was featured, thanking P&G for saving a life. 

“Thank you for saving another soul,” he wrote.  He said “Something as short as an ad can be life changing,” telling the story of a 54 year old man who described a sense of empowerment watching a Pride flag unfold on an Olympic venue mountainside in South Korea. That kind of marketing, Miller said, is “what we’re supposed to do.”

Miller also said he was particularly proud that his work moves not just a younger generation but the generations before them who fought “so hard and now get to see their work come to fruition.” 

Andrew Beaver, an advertising and marketing executive who serviced P&G advertising accounts, agreed with Miller, “I worked with P&G during a time when it wasn’t easy to support our community. They put put their money where their mouth approving LGBT+ inclusive advertising.”

Mohit Jolly, Senior Director for Global Ads Marketing at Google, who grew up in Chandigarh, India, a small, conservative city about five hours north of New Delhi, said he knew early on that something about him was different. “I come from the most intensely conservative background and coming out was not easy.”

He and actress Jari Jones spoke of the necessity for inclusion in marketing and the power of LGBT stories. 

Jones said that images of trans people she was exposed to as a young person had set her back but today’s more authentic representations of people like her have changed her life and the lives of millions of people.

Google, said Jolly, recognizes the power of representation and information to transform our lives and highlighted several tools the mega-powered company provides, including LGBTQ safe spaces and LGBTQ business features on maps worldwide. 

“Every day we reach billions and billions of people and so we have a responsibility,” he said. “I believe our commitments are profound.”

As the event drew to a close, Big Fredia took the stage and opened with her signature song of affirmation and call to be your true color, the aptly named “Big Dick Energy.”

Big Freedia performs onstage during A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for GLAAD)

Guests included out NFL Legend Ryan O’Callaghan as well as LGBTQ leaders and allies including Alyssa Milano, Anthony Bowens, August Getty, Big Freedia, Braunwyn Windham-Burke, Jai Rodriguez, Jari Jones, Jeka Jane, Joey Zauzig, Justin Sylvester, Kent Boyd, LZ Granderson, Mollee Grey, Peter Porte, Philemon Chambers, R.K. Russell, Sonya DeVille, Victoria Brito, Cyd Zeigler, Los Angeles Blade Publisher Troy Masters, Andrew Beaver, GLAAD’s Rich Ferraro and Pamela Stewart, Chair of GLAAD’s Board of Directors.



GLAAD re-teams with NFL for ‘A Night of Pride’

Out bi NFL player RK Russell joins music and Hollywood stars in Phoenix Wednesday night, Feb. 8, at the Sheraton Downtown



R.K. Russell courtesy of GLAAD

NEW YORK – Even if you’re not into “sportsball” or don’t have plans to watch the Super Bowl next Sunday, there’s a super queer party in the works in Phoenix that will put some glitter on the gridiron. 

GLAAD is once again teaming-up with the National Football league for a star-studded event that will spotlight LGBTQ+ inclusion in professional sports. It also highlights the NFL’s commitment to LGBTQ+ NFL players, coaches and league personnel and out LGBTQ+ NFL Legends, like R.K. Russell. 

The former defensive end and free agent came out as bisexual in 2019, and was part of last year’s A Night of Pride with GLAAD and the NFL, ahead of Super Bowl LVI. He’ll be joined by another out football player, Byron Perkins, the Hampton University defensive back and Chicago native who last year became the first player at any of the nation’s 101 HBCUs to come out as gay.

This year’s spectacular takes place Wednesday night, Feb. 8, at the Sheraton Downtown Phoenix, and features a performance by recording artist and LGBTQ+ ally Betty Who

Also on hand: Tempest DuJour and Joey Jay of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Lance Bass, G Flip, Mynx DiMilo, Justine Lindsay, Meredith Marks of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City and Braunwyn Windham-Burke of The Real Housewives of Orange County, Big Brother Winner Taylor Hale, Shaun T, Justin Sutherland of Top Chef, Paige Mobley, Asher Grodman, Liz Jenkins and content creators Ashley & Malori. 

The invite list also includes State Rep. Daniel Hernandez (D-Ariz.), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Tim Ellis, the league’s EVP & CMO as well as GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, among others. 

In addition to the celebrities, famous names, music and cocktails, GLAAD is promoting the event’s panel discussions on the power of visibility and representation as well as the power and the promise of the next generation of NFL active players. The evening will also feature a panel discussion moderated by Yahoo!’s senior reporter Daniel Artavia about how professional sports can drive LGBTQ+ acceptance forward and help combat discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, including amateur and student athletes.

The red carpet rolls out at 6 p.m. MST, followed by panels and performances at 7 p.m. 
The league has made big strides toward greater acceptance since Michael Sam made headlines when he came out as gay before the NFL Draft nine years ago this month, in Feb. 2014.

More than a dozen retired NFL players have come out as LGBTQ+, including Ryan O’Callahan, who took part in last year’s GLAAD/NFL event. But it wasn’t until June 2021 that an active NFL player, Carl Nassib, came out as gay, and found almost universal acceptance and support. Nassib was with the Raiders at that time and had a one-year contract to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His future in the NFL is unknown.

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Jacob Caswell is 1st-Ever Nonbinary Runner of the year

The 25-year-old New Yorker finished first in the nonbinary category of last fall’s NYC Marathon & 172nd overall in 24 and a half minutes



Rob Simmelkjaer, CEO, NYRR (left) Jacob Caswell (center) Ted Metellus, Sr. VP, Events & Race Director of the TCS NYC Marathon (Photo Credit: New York Road Runners)

NEW YORK – The highlight of Thursday’s 42nd annual NYRR Club Night in Midtown Manhattan was another historic first for Jake Caswell and the New York Road Runners. The 25-year-old New Yorker was awarded the first-ever nonbinary Fred Lebow Runner of the Year award for their major accomplishments. 

Caswell won 13 NYRR races in 2022, including the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon, the RBC Brooklyn Half Marathon and the legendary TCS New York City Marathon. 

“It’s great being the first nonbinary athlete of the year,” they told the Los Angeles Blade last night. “Being able to run as our authentic selves truly lets me and other athletes be at the start line and feel comfortable being there. I’m truly proud of my team and all the nonbinary winners tonight to show that we are here and deserve to be recognized for our achievements.”

As the Blade reported last November, Caswell finished first in their category in the 2022 TCS NYC Marathon, earning $5,000, for running the 26.2 mile race in 2:45:12. It was the first time in the history of the six major marathons around the world that organizers of the New York City Marathon awarded cash prizes to the top nonbinary runners. All three of the top nonbinary finishers are a part of Front Runners New York, a group for runners who are LGBTQ+. 

Jake Caswell via Front Runners New York

“Our local-run clubs are the cornerstone of our running community, and our NYRR Club Night was an outstanding way to celebrate their achievements from the past year,” said Rob Simmelkjaer, CEO of NYRR. “Congratulations to Jacob and our entire running community for inspiring us all with another tremendous year on the roads.”

Caswell finished 172nd overall- 24 and a half minutes ahead of the second place nonbinary runner, Zackary Harris of New York City. In 2021, Harris, 27, finished first in the nonbinary category, but at that time there were no cash prizes. Justin Solle, 28, also of New York, finished third of the 45 nonbinary runners. 

While most of that category’s runners hail from the Greater New York metropolitan area, there were also nonbinary runners from Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Washington State and even from Germany. 

The NYC race was only the second time a World Marathon Major race registered nonbinary competitors. Marathon organizers in Boston, Chicago, London and Berlin followed New York’s lead; Only the Tokyo Marathon has not, according to NBC News.

The New York Times reported the Philadelphia Distance Run became the first organization to offer equal prize money to nonbinary athletes in September 2021.

More than 500 individual runners and local run club members attended the club night held in the Grand Ballroom at Manhattan Center, honoring the best runners and teams in New York City, as well as celebrating the power of running.

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NY Rangers forgoes Pride jerseys & stick tape for team Pride night

“NYC Pride was not made aware in advance of our participation in last night’s ceremonial puck drop that Pride jerseys would not be worn”



Out Broadway star and actor Michael James Scott prepares to sing the National Anthem at the opening of the NY Rangers Pride Night 2023. (Photo Credit: The New York Rangers/NHL)

NEW YORK CITY – New York LGBTQ+ Rangers fans were disappointed after the National Hockey League team forwent wearing the team’s special warm-up jerseys and using Pride stick tape during the team’s 7th annual Pride Night Friday.

The Rangers had promoted Friday night’s Madison Square Garden home game against Vegas Golden Knights, saying players “will be showing their support by donning pride-themed warm-up jerseys and tape in solidarity with those who continue to advocate for inclusivity.”  But ultimately the team wore their “Liberty Head” jerseys in warmups instead.

After the game, a 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, the Rangers released a statement: “Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night. In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”

In an emailed statement to the Blade Sunday Dan Dimant, Media Director for NYC Pride | Heritage of Pride, Inc. said:

In recent years, numerous National Hockey League (NHL) franchises including the New York Rangers have introduced a series of “Pride Nights” to engage the LGBTQ+ community. NYC Pride has been honored to take part in these celebrations, including as recently as last night at Madison Square Garden.

NYC Pride was not made aware in advance of our participation in last night’s ceremonial puck drop that Pride jerseys and rainbow tape would not be worn as advertised. We understand and appreciate that this has been a major disappointment to the LGBTQ+ community in New York and beyond. We are communicating these concerns with NY Rangers and NHL leadership as we continue to discuss the ways these organizations can work toward inclusion.

NYC Pride has a duty to both support our partners and hold them accountable. We are committed to continuing our relationships with the NY Rangers and the NHL and maintaining substantive dialogue with them about meaningful allyship with the LGBTQ+ community.”

ESPN reported that the team’s annual Pride Night was celebrated throughout the game in other ways. Fans were given a pride-themed fanny pack as a giveaway. The exterior and interior lights at Madison Square Garden were illuminated in rainbow colors. The Rangers also made a charitable donation to the Ali Forney Center on Pride Night, the largest agency dedicated to LGBTQ+ homeless youths in the country.

ESPN noted that Andre Thomas, co-chair of NYC Pride and Heritage of Pride, participated in the ceremonial puck drop.
(Photo Credit: The New York Rangers/NHL)

The Rangers’ Pride Night was held 10 days after Ivan Provorov, the alternate captain for the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, opted out of participating in the team’s Pride Night charity event before the game Tuesday, claiming a religious exemption based on his Russian Orthodox faith.

Provorov, 26, was the only member of the Flyers to not take part in the pre-game exercise on the ice. A video tweeted by the team’s official account shows the rest of the players wore special Pride Night-themed black jerseys with the traditional Flyers logo on the front and rainbow-colored names and numbers on the back; Many of the players practiced using hockey sticks wrapped in rainbow-colored tape known as Pride tape. Both the sticks and the jerseys were auctioned off after the game with the Anaheim Ducks, to raise money for local LGBTQ+ charities. 

The defenseman, who was born in Russia, told reporters after their victory, “I respect everybody and respect everybody’s choices,” adding that he declined to take part in the warmup “to stay true to myself and my religion.” 

After Provorov opted out of participating in the Flyer’s Pride Night charity event the NHL put out a statement that said players can decide which team and league initiatives to support.

“Hockey is for Everyone is the umbrella initiative under which the League encourages Clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets, and to work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans,” the league said. “Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with League counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”

New York Rangers: Sights and Sounds | Jan. 24 2022 Pride Night:

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Musk on hockey Pride uproar: ‘Pendulum has swung a bit too far’

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov cited religious beliefs for why he refused to wear a Pride-themed jersey



Los Angeles Blade graphic

SAN FRANCISCO – Twitter CEO and owner Elon Musk has joined the chorus of anti-gay voices on Twitter cheering-on the NHL player who sat out a warmup this week because he’d have to don a team jersey featuring rainbow colors. 

The controversy that resulted from Philadelphia Flyers’ defenseman Ivan Provorov’s decision in turn sparked outrage from LGBTQ+ activists and allies, as well as a pro-religious freedom backlash among conservatives, including a gay one followed by Musk.

“The pendulum has swung a bit too far,” tweeted the Twitter, Tesla and SpaceX mogul. 

Provorov, 26, told reporters after the Flyers-Ducks game on Tuesday: “I respect everybody and respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.” 

Provorov, who is Russian-born, said his religion is Russian Orthodox, a Christian faith that equates same-sex marriage with Nazism and supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a divine mission in opposition to Pride parades and gay rights.

Following Provorov’s boycott of the pre-game fundraiser, in which every other member of the Philadelphia Flyers participated, social media erupted; Fans were divided over whether Provorov was exercising his freedom of religion or being homophobic. Although his coach, team and the National Hockey League supported his decision, some complained he should have been benched for the game. 

One NHL analyst, E.J. Hradek, even suggested Provorov should go back to Russia. 

Musk responded to a gay conservative’s RT of that video, who stated, “The gay movement, in about 7 years, went from “equal rights!” to “go f***ing die in a trench war if you don’t wear a pride shirt!” 

Musk’s response in turn drew attention to Maxwell Meyer of Austin, Texas, the policy chief at a venture capital firm who writes on Substack about his support of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his “Don’t Say Trans or Gay” law, deadnames out transgender HHS Asst. Sec., Adm. Rachel Levine, and works for a fellow Stanford alumnus and California native who writes negative stories about Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.)

Meyer responded to Musk with a plea as a “gay American.” 

It’s important to note three things: First, that Provorov’s views were respected. He was not punished or disciplined for his refusal to take part in the warmup, which on special nights traditionally involves special jerseys. In fact, he has the support of his team, his coach, the NHL and many fans. 

Fox News reports sales of Povorov jerseys have skyrocketed, and are in fact selling-out at some retailers. 

The only people who lost anything that night were the LGBTQ+ charities that benefit from auctions of the Pride jerseys and Pride tape-adorned hockey sticks, given that the auctioneer had one fewer jersey and stick with which to raise money for those marginalized groups.

Second, someone needs to tell Povorov and his newfound supporters sexual orientation is not a choice. An analysis of the DNA of nearly half a million people from the U.S. and the U.K. concluded that genes account for between 8% and 25% of same-sex behavior.

And finally, as the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Musk’s tweet comes amid a continuing spike in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric on his social media site. Research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, Anti-Defamation League and other groups found that hate speech on Twitter rose after Musk purchased the platform.

Anti-gay slurs, in particular, increased from an average of 2,506 times per day to 3,964. 

The Blade reached out to Musk for comment but did not receive a response as of press time. Last summer, Musk was disowned by his out transgender daughter in her court filing, seeking to legally change her name and gender, and has frequently drawn criticism for tweeting anti-queer and other divisive memes.

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NHL player skips Pride Night warmup, claims religious exemption

The Flyers regularly wear special warmup jerseys pregame & raffle them off. This was the first time that they had done Pride jerseys



Photo Credit: Philadelphia Flyers/NHL

PHILADELPHIA – Ivan Provorov, the alternate captain for the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, opted out of participating in the team’s Pride Night charity event before the game Tuesday, claiming a religious exemption based on his Russian Orthodox faith.

Provorov, 26, was the only member of the Flyers to not take part in the pre-game exercise on the ice. A video tweeted by the team’s official account shows the rest of the players wore special Pride Night-themed black jerseys with the traditional Flyers logo on the front and rainbow-colored names and numbers on the back; Many of the players practiced using hockey sticks wrapped in rainbow-colored tape known as Pride tape. Both the sticks and the jerseys were auctioned off after the game with the Anaheim Ducks, to raise money for local LGBTQ+ charities. 

The defenseman, who was born in Russia, told reporters after their victory, “I respect everybody and respect everybody’s choices,” adding that he declined to take part in the warmup “to stay true to myself and my religion.” 

Flyers coach John Tortorella stood by Provorov’s decision, telling reporters he respected the player for being “always true to himself.”

“With Provy, he’s being true to himself and his religion,” Tortorella said. “That has to do with his belief and his religion. That’s one thing I respect about Provy, he’s always true to himself. And that’s where we’re at with that.” The coach declined to comment further, but added, “We talked as a team here with Provy, and that’s where we’re at.”

Despite the win over the Ducks, the Flyers are being either slammed on Twitter, or hailed, for the decision to let Provorov play. 

While a user named @SaltySeaFl praised Provorov because he did not “cave to the new state religion,” and asked those criticizing him, “Where’s your tolerance?” sportswriter Rachael Millanta tweeted in response to the player’s words about respecting “everybody’s choices:” “Being LGBT+ is not a “choice.”

“This isn’t something new,” wrote sportswriter Stephanie Driver of, regarding the Pride Night event. “The Flyers regularly wear special warmup jerseys pregame and raffle them off. This was, however, the first time that they had done Pride jerseys. In the past, they have done rainbow tape and many players declined to use it.”

Other players on the team have not hesitated to show their support for Philly’s queer fans. Flyers forward Scott Laughton and teammate James van Riemsdyk have partnered with several LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations and host members of the community at every home game. Laughton arranged to have a 13-year-old nonbinary fan beat the traditional drum before the puck dropped on Pride Night. 

The team issued a statement noting its commitment to inclusivity and support for the LGBTQ+ community but made no mention of Provorov or his “choice.” 
Brian Kitts, the co-founder of the nonprofit organization You Can Play, which has worked with the NHL on its Hockey Is For Everyone campaign, issued its own statement, noting “there is still work to be done to change hearts and minds.” Sports reporter Devin Heroux quoted You Can Play as saying the organization has reached out to the Flyers to offer support on “this continuing educational journey.”

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The Los Angeles Blade interview: Iszak Henig

LA Blade Sports Editor Dawn Ennis interviews Yale trans swimmer Iszac Henig in his first interview since the NCAA championship last March




NEW HAVEN, Ct. – Ten months have passed since the first historic matchup of two out, NCAA transgender student-athletes, competing against one another for a national championship: trans man Iszac Henig vs. trans woman Lia Thomas.

Although Henig represented Yale’s women’s swim team in that contest, he made it clear in a March 2022 interview with the Los Angeles Blade: I’m not a woman,” Henig said. “I am just a guy trying to go as fast as I can.”

Now, in his first interview since that championship, and after sharing his story with the world in The New York Times, the Yale University senior from Menlo Park, Calif. sat down with the Blade to talk about switching to swim with the men’s team, his plans after graduating, the trolls on social media and anti-trans politics. Also, he revealed: he has a girlfriend. 

“I wonder, politically, do you align with progressive politics, or is politics something that doesn’t interest you?” the Blade asked. “Are you conservative?”

“I was having the conversation with my girlfriend last night,” said Henig, 21. Earlier in the conversation, he deflected when asked if he had someone he’d consider a partner. Then he let it slip he was dating a classmate at Yale, and we shared a laugh. “I will admit to it, yes,” he said with a smile. 

“So, I started talking about political identity. She’s a politics major, so this is sort of her jam,” said Henig. “Politics does interest me in that it is incredibly relevant to my life, incredibly relevant to the lives of people that I care deeply about. Policy has widespread impacts. And so, I think from that level, it is interesting to me. I’m a citizen who votes. It’s interesting to me in terms of political identity, generally progressive, sort of left leaning. That follows naturally from how I was raised and how I was taught to view the world and how I choose to view the world.”

How Henig views the world is with compassion, something that came up repeatedly in the conversation on Zoom last week. He said he learned that at home, growing up in Menlo Park.

“My parents always have sort of instilled a level of kindness, compassion, thoughtfulness,” he said. 

A competitive swimmer since he was four, Henig was one of the top 20 high school swimmers in California at 18, and one of the top 100 swimmers in the country. As he explains in his Times essay, Henig also excelled in the pool at Yale, but floundered in his identity in the company of women, especially in the locker room. He told the Blade that gap year he took during the pandemic provided an opportunity for him to explore who he was, who he wanted to be, and after working with a therapist, finally come out as the man he’d known himself to be since he was a teen. 

“The first time I verbalized it was at 14, to my mom,” said the college senior, who realizes, in hindsight, he needed more time. “The climate was different. I was young. I was a teenager and I was not ready to advocate for myself in that way that I would have needed to.” 

But to those who believe children, even teens, cannot possibly know they are trans, Henig says: 

“I was certain. There was no doubt in my mind. You know, people are like, ‘Oh, kids are too young to know.’ No,” said Henig, “We’re sure. We’re certain.”

What’s it like swimming with the other guys at Yale? “It’s been great. It’s been awesome,” he said. “I love the guys on the team. It’s been a really cool experience for me, just spending time with them.” 

He shrugs off the negative reports by anti-trans reporters at Fox News and the National Review, who have focused on his top surgery and his performance since starting on testosterone eight months ago. Although he wrote in his op-ed that his times are “about the same as they were at the end of last season,” Henig is bashed for finishing 79th out of 83. 

“A lot of the articles are like, ‘This guy stinks at swimming, he got 79th out of 83.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, I could have told you that myself! You don’t need to remind me, you know?’ I knew I was coming in bottom of the pack,” he said. “A lot of the comments have been like, ‘Oh, you know, a real man would want to win, or a real man would want to care.’ And I’m like, ‘You need to meet more men!’ I’m sorry, not every man is the same. There are so many good reasons to be an athlete, and winning is one of them, but it’s not the only reason. I love my sport and I get to race and I get better because the people around me are better than me.”

Trolls will also comment on his posts that feature his flat chest, saying awful things like this: “So sad to see you cutting your own body parts. It is the same as cutting your arms or legs so sad. You would regret this once your brain has finish developing and stop taking hormones.” 

“There’s no sort of nice way to put it: It sucks, right? It’s never going to be a positive experience,” he said. “I had someone comment on my Instagram posts, literally like, ‘Oh, I wonder if you were molested as a child?’ And I was like, first of all, that is so disrespectful to survivors, you know? And that is a completely unrelated thing. And second, I’m so sorry that you think that that’s okay to say to someone, that people have treated you in a way that you’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s a normal thing to say.’ And you block.”

Henig said he never responds to hate but does offer kindness, and stays on-brand with compassion.

“What I try and remember, what I try and live by, is you can’t respond to hate. That is never going to be productive. What I try and do is find compassion,” he said. “I say, ‘Okay, you are saying this to me for a reason, and I am so sorry that whatever has happened in your life that has led you to this point, where you think that it’s okay to say something like that to someone.’”

Henig credits his friend and supporter, trans trailblazer Schuyler Bailar, with providing advice to handle the haters with the same energy that comes from being a fellow competitive swimmer: “I think, in an ideal world, that derives naturally from sport, from teamwork. You learn how to say, ‘We fundamentally disagree, but let’s get something done together. Let’s find common ground.’”

Bailar has also showed him the power of advocacy. “But I probably wouldn’t self-identify as an activist,” he said. “I think I think I’d opt for advocate athlete.”

Once he graduates in May, he’s hoping to work in renewable energy, calling climate change his passion. But he said he won’t be swimming competitively after this season and has ruled out the Olympics. Henig hopes to become, in his words, a NARP: “A Non Athletic Regular Person.” Or, as he also put it: “Just some guy.” And maybe, someday, just some dad. 

“The idea of motherhood, fundamentally, was uncomfortable to me, and I’m actually quite excited about the idea of fatherhood,” he told the Blade. “I was pretty sure that I’m going to be dead by 30. I’m really glad to say that I absolutely don’t feel that way anymore, because transition has been so life affirming. I do want kids. I do want a family.”

To the trans kids living in states of hate, where laws and policies may prevent them from competing in sports as their authentic selves or receiving gender-affirming healthcare, Henig has this message: “Do what you need to do to keep yourself alive, to keep yourself safe as long as you can, until you have the opportunity to do something else. Know that we’re fighting. There are so many people on the ground trying to make changes, trying to prevent bills from getting passed, trying to get resources to places that don’t have them. It’s something that I want to continue to support.” 

By writing his essay and talking to reporters, Henig hopes he can also reach those who aren’t supportive of inclusion and trans healthcare. “I would really like to call people in, and ask, ‘If you can, set aside a belief that you currently have, and open your mind to trying something new.’ See if you can say, ‘Okay, you know what? What could I learn today? What can I open my mind to?’ That would be my ask, because I think the world just needs more empathy, more compassion in general.”

This is Iszac’s first interview following his moving essay in The New York Times:

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Out NFL star Carl Nassib confirms former Olympian is his boyfriend

The National Football League’s first out gay player confirmed his relationship with Olympic swimmer Søren Dahl on Instagram



Søren Dahl and Carl Nassib via Nassib/Instagram

TAMPA – After months of internet speculation and Instagram snaps, it’s official: Carl Nassib and Søren Dahl are a couple. Last weekend, the NFL player posted an Instagram story featuring a photograph of himself with his arm around the Danish swimmer.

Dahl, who competed in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, is seen wearing a Buccaneers jersey with Nassib’s number 94, and the linebacker has his arm around Dahl’s waist. 

Although there have been a series of snapshots since last summer featuring Nassib and Dahl together on the beach, in a club, and at the gym, this is the first one in which Nassib wrote something to clarify they are dating: “Kicking off 2023 with my man and a trip to the playoffs,” he captioned the photo. Until now, Nassib has been extremely private about his personal life.

Queerty noted Dahl also posted a few pictures on Instagram on Jan. 2, including that same photo, with the caption, “Always Big Boy Season.” From the background and location, it appears this was taken outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., home of the Bucs. 

This will be the second playoff season for Nassib, the first active NFL player to come out as gay. He made the playoffs with the Las Vegas Raiders last year, and this year he’s with Tom Brady and the Bucs. Their postseason game date and opponent will be announced in just days, but first they’ll take on the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday, already having clinched the No. 4 seed and the NFC South title. 

Dahl swam for Denmark in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay in 2016’s Olympic Games. Prior to that, he competed for North Carolina State and was a two-time NCAA champion swimmer, winning titles in the 4×100 free and 4×200 free relays. Sometime around 2018, he moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to pursue his master’s degree in Strategic Communication at Texas Christian University. After graduating in 2020, Dahl moved to New York City. 

In 2021, he shared the story with followers of his TikTok account of how a former swimming coach called him the “F-word” and told him he’d “never become a good swimmer” if he were to come out as gay. The video then shows Dahl sporting a big smile and photos from his time swimming at the Olympics. 

@kingkoper0 Get on my level fckrrr🖕🏼 #olympics #gayathlete #representation #homophobic #sports #gay ♬ Touch It Clean – Remix – Dj Raulito

Although they dedicated themselves to different sports and were born in different countries, Nassib and Dahl are the same age, 29, celebrating birthdays just months apart. 

Ever since coming out, Nassib has stepped up to help LGBTQ+ youth by raising money for The Trevor Project, for two years now: He’s matched all donations to the organization up to $100,000. The group operates a crisis lifeline and provides resources to young people struggling with coming out, and also supports important research into the lack of affirming situations across race, identity and age groups.

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San Diego Loyal’s gay player: Many reasons for no Out UK players

Martin has staked out a new mission for himself to promote greater inclusion in his sport for LGBTQ people



Openly gay professional soccer player Collin Martin being interviewed by U.S. Soccer (Screenshot/YouTube)

SAN DIEGO – In an interview published the day after Christmas by the British tabloid publication Daily Express, San Diego Loyal’s openly gay midfielder, Collin Martin, said he believed there are a number of pressing factors, including homophobia both on and off the field, that may be preventing professional gay soccer players in the UK from coming out and feeling comfortable about being themselves under public scrutiny.

Martin come out as gay in 2018 while playing for the Minnesota United. The then 23-year-old Chevy Chase, Maryland native made the announcement on Twitter just hours before Minnesota United’s Pride celebration before the team’s match against FC Dallas.

Martin, who formerly played for D.C. United, was the second Major League Soccer player to come out. Robbie Rogers became the first openly gay MLS player when he came out in 2013.

In his interview with the British publication Martin said that he believes that almost anything can contribute to players not wanting to publicly reveal their sexualities, including their family situations, the advice given by their representatives or negative attitudes from team-mates and coaches.

“You never know what the barrier’s going to be, because it really could be anything,” Martin told Express Sport. “I’ve talked in my own personal story that growing up in the church was really hard for me, so that was a barrier I had to overcome. That was the biggest obstacle between me and my parents.

“My parents obviously were heavily invested in the church and I had my questions about if I were to come out, how I would be supported in the church. I thought if my parents brought me to church and this is where they feel safe and part of the community, does that mean when I come out to them, are they going to support me?”

He also told the Express: “We don’t always know the factors for gay athletes, what’s going to keep them in the closet or not. It could be an agent advising a player: ‘You know what, I think it’s best for you not to come out until we get you a transfer or into a different club’. Or it could be team-mates and people at the club, with homophobia and things people say.”

Earlier this month Martin was also interviewed by UK’s premiere LGBTQ+ media outlet, PinkNewsUK. Taking aim at the World Cup debacle over LGBTQ+ rights and the repressive nature of the games held in the deeply homophobic Qatar, Martin said that FIFA didn’t do enough for LGBTQ+ rights in Qatar regarding LGBTQ+ rights.

During an 18 December interview with PinkNews, the American football player said his “biggest disappointment” during the Qatar 2022 World Cup was football association FIFA’s apathy on LGBTQ+ rights.

Martin said that not only did he believe that FIFA could have done more, but the tournament should also have been awarded to a different country altogether.

“There has been no interest from FIFA in trying to actually improve the lives of the people that are living there,” he said.

“I think it should have been awarded to a more progressive country that’s willing to open its doors to everyone.”

Collin Martin, (Center) with teammates Augustine Williams, Charlie Adams, Tumi Moshobane, Miguel Ibarra
(Photo courtesy of the San Diego Loyal)

Martin has staked out a new mission for himself to promote greater inclusion in his sport for LGBTQ people

On the last day of the 2020 season gathered around their coach, American soccer great Landon Donovan, the visibly angered players of the San Diego Loyal Major League Soccer team were ready to walk off the field that Autumn day. The reason was the homophobic slur that had been directed at their openly Out midfielder by a player on the opposing team.

ESPN reported what happened next; “The team was in agreement: Something needed to be done. They decided that if the offending player, Phoenix Rising‘s Junior Flemmings, wasn’t removed from the game — by the ref, his coach or of his own volition — they would walk off the field.”

The Loyals needed this game as a win to assure a slot in the second-tier of the upcoming championship playoffs and at the half-time mark San Diego was leading Phoenix 3-1. Martin had serious reservations about taking a hike over the homophobia telling ESPN in a later interview; “I just was like, ‘No, we really should play this game,’ because this is my nightmare. My sexuality having an impact on a soccer game? This is actually my nightmare.”

After approaching the Phoenix team’s head coach Rick Schantz who blew it off and allowed the offending player to play the second half of the game the Loyals followed through and walked off forfeiting the match and the coveted spot in the playoffs.

Since that game which propelled Martin into the harsh glare of publicity and garnered more fans, especially from the LGBTQ community for the team, Martin has staked out a new mission for himself to promote greater inclusion in his sport for LGBTQ people.

Loyals head coach Donovan, in an interview with ESPN, reflected on the moment last Fall that became a game changer for the normally taciturn midfielder.

“In the moment, [Martin hated the decision] and in probably the 24 hours after, he hated all the attention and what came from it,” Donovan said. “But I think he was smart enough to realize the platform that had been created. That this was a unique opportunity to really — I don’t say this lightly — move our society and the world forward in a positive way. I give him a lot of credit for taking all the uncomfortable attention that he didn’t want and dealing with it so that he could help a lot of other people.”

At the end of August last year, Martin joined Common Goal. The non-profit in partnership with athletic apparel giant Adidas and other football (soccer) players around the globe, is dedicated to creating a more thorough link between football players, managers, fans, organisations, brands, to join the global football community together on a team big enough and strong enough to take on the world’s toughest opponents from HIV/AIDS to gender inequality to youth unemployment.

San Diego Loyal SC’s Collin Martin: A Conversation on Sport and Inclusivity:

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Exclusive: USA Cycling investigating trans cyclist in championship

Austin Killips, who placed 3rd in the Elite Women’s Cyclocross, calls allegation ‘ridiculous’ USA Cycling staff is investigating



Austin Killips competing in the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships in Hartford, Conn, last weekend (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

HARTFORD, Ct. – A spokesperson for USA Cycling tells the Los Angeles Blade officials are reviewing an allegation that an out transgender cyclist attempted to push a cisgender competitor off-course at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships in Hartford, Conn, last weekend. 

The accusation was made by father of a cisgender cyclist who claims officials should have disqualified the trans athlete, Austin Killips, who denied she made any such move in an exclusive statement to the Blade. 

The father of the cyclist, Tom Pearman of Charlotte, N.C., tweeted video on Dec. 11 that he says shows Killips, 26, making a “move which was only one of at least 3 attempts to put [Hannah] Arnesman [sic] into the tape. I was standing right there when one of the others happened.”  

Opponents of transgender inclusion and anti-trans activists have seized upon his tweet, in which Pearman called Killips transphobic slurs. Others have misgendered her, branded her a “cheater” and called USA Cycling “cowards.” 

“The incident in question has been brought to the attention of USA Cycling staff,”  spokesperson Tom Mahoney told the Blade in an email on Friday. “Staff is doing their due diligence and reviewing the situation with both athletes in question, as well as reviewing footage from the event. No action for the athletes is being taken at this time while in the incident is in review.” 

Killips told the Blade in a direct message via Instagram that the allegation is “ridiculous.” 

Austin Killips and Hannah Arensman (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

“I’m not sure what to say,” Killips wrote. “I approached that feature in the same manner every single lap. There was one place to remount for those who ran and I was simply trying to get to that spot on a pitch that was incredibly steep and slippery. The idea that I would make a split-second decision to cause contact that could throw away both of our chances at winning the race in our group is ridiculous and at complete odds with how I have historically comported myself in races.” 

Killips shared with the Blade a YouTube video from that same day, on the same muddy course, where conditions were so horribly slippery that even the Elite Men had difficulty navigating, with many of these athletes not only making contact but landing in a pile-up. 

Killips is one of two trans women athletes who competed in last week’s championships, and unlike in 2021, the race went on without a single protester at the finish line. 

Anti-trans demonstrators not only targeted trans competitors last year, there were ugly instances of anti-LGBTQ attitudes among athletes, promoters and even officials, according to an open letter signed by dozens of USA Cycling members. New leadership at USA Cycling took steps to prevent a repeat of that harassment of athletes along the course, and to publicize those steps with a new fan code of conduct.

The result was a total absence of protests and an abundance of support, with spectators waving Pride flags, trans inclusive signs and the blue, pink and white Trans Pride flag designed by activist Monica Helms. 

Race course spectators (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

“They know there are more of us, more people to show love and affection for trans and queer and nonbinary folks than all the haters combined,“ said Tara Seplavy, deputy editor of Bicycling Magazine, a trans woman and a competitive cyclocross rider herself. “They’re probably sitting at home, watching us on the internet and getting all pissy on Twitter.” 

Despite the fact that neither one of the two out trans cyclists finished first or second, anti-trans Twitter has been flooded for more than a week with transphobic hate, complaining that those two women placed among the top five elite women competing in the slippery mud and falling snow. 

“I played by the rules,” Killips told the Blade following her race on Saturday. “I just want the sport to be fun and accessible. I care about my competitors. I care about women’s cycling. I’m just trying to grow the sport and be a positive influence, and do what I can to bring resources and support.” 

Killips finished 3rd in the Women’s Senior 18-22 category, with a time of 52:24, four minutes behind champion Clara Honsinger, who won her third-straight elite title at 48:58 and second-place finisher Raylyn Nuss, at 50:35.

Raylyn Nuss, Clara Honsinger, and Austin Killips (Photo Courtesy Karleigh Webb)

Two seconds behind Killips and right on her heels was Arensman, 25, of Brevard, N.C., which is about 120 miles from where the father who tweeted, Tom Pearman, lives.

Jenna Lingwood, 41, of Portland, Ore. finished in 5th place. She’s the other trans woman who competed last week, with her two children cheering her on.

On Dec. 8 Lingwood won the Master’s Women 40-44 race with a time of 45:01, just 37 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Erin Feldhausen of Madison, Wis. 

Also last week, USA Cycling held the first-ever Nonbinary National Championship race. Summer Newlands of Portland, Ore. finished first on Dec. 10, with a time of 34:29, followed by Kristin Sundquist of Burlington, Vt. In second place with 35:16. Henrietta Watts of Bellingham, Wash. secured the bronze medal with 47:43 as her time. Newlands is now one of the first nonbinary national champions in the world.

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Brittney Griner to play in upcoming WNBA season

Phoenix Mercury center returned to U.S. on Dec. 9



Brittney Griner (Screen capture via Russian State Media)

SAN ANTONIO — WNBA star Brittney Griner in her first public comments since she returned to the U.S. said she will play in the league’s upcoming season.

“I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote and posted for me in person soon,” said Griner in a post on her Instagram page.

Russian customs officials in February detained Griner at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. A court later convicted her of importation of illegal drugs and sentenced her to a 9-year prison sentence in a penal colony.

President Joe Biden on Dec. 8 announced Russia had released Griner in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S. Griner returned to the U.S. the following day.

Griner’s Instagram post contains pictures of her arriving at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio and hugging her wife, Cherelle Griner.

“It feels so good to be home,” said Brittney Griner. “The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.”

“I am grateful to each person who advocated for me, especially my wife, Cherelle Griner, my family, Lindsay Kagawa Colas and Casey Wasserman and my whole team at Wasserman, Vince Kozar and the Phoenix Mercury, the players of the WNBA and my entire WNBA family, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, my Russian legal team Maria Blagovolina and Alex Boykov, the leaders, activists, and grassroots organizations, Gov. Richardson and Mickey Bergman of the Richardson Center, the Bring Our Families Home Campaign, Roger Carstens and the SPEHA team, and of course, a special thank you to President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary Blinken and the entire Biden-Harris administration,” she added. “President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too. I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole.”

Brittney Griner in her post also wrote that as she begins to “transition home to enjoy the holidays with my family, I want to acknowledge and thank the entire PISA staff and medical team at the San Antonio Fort Sam Houston Base.” 

“I appreciate the time and care to make sure I was okay and equipped with the tools for this new journey,” she said.

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