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The NBA’s Expanding Relationship with the LGBTQ Community

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Sports fans have probably noticed that the culture around professional sports has been rapidly changing lately to become one of diversity and inclusion. That’s by no means to suggest that things are perfect, but it’s clear that progress is being made.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has represented a significant part of this progress, leading the way particularly in activism concerning the LGBTQ community. Here we will review a few of the league’s recent efforts to help those struggling to find acceptance and combat discrimination towards members of this community.

Reggie Bullock’s History of LGBTQ Activism

New York Knicks shooting guard Reggie Bullock has played for several teams around the league, but is perhaps best known for his involvement in the LGBTQ community. This is partially due to a Vice Sports documentary about him that was released when he was still playing with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bullock’s activism has been primarily motivated by the murder of his transgender sister back in 2014.

Since that horrible tragedy, he has made it his goal to personally understand the unique struggles faced particularly by trans women of color, as well as to educate others on the importance of this issue. In addition to the Vice documentary, Bullock has shared his experiences on countless other media platforms and has helped to make the sports world more supportive of the trans community (even if in many respects there’s still a very long way to go).

The 76ers’ Pride Community Conversation & Basketball Clinic

Every professional sports team has a particular cause or two at any given time that it advocates for with fundraisers, donations, and events. Accordingly, the Philadelphia 76ers have recently started supporting LGBTQ youth in their home town, through events like the Pride Community Conversation & Basketball Clinic that took place earlier this summer. The clinic was a part of the Sixers’ celebration of Pride Month, for which the team also participated in Philly’s annual pride parade. Following a panel discussion, the Sixers’ clinic was led by former pro Jason Collins and a few members of the coaching staff.

Judging by NBA odds, the 76ers are lined up to be one of the most competitive teams this upcoming season, which should make all of this activism and support matter that much more. While it’s nice to see any pro franchise take a stand and get involved, one full of star players and playing in big games naturally attracts all the more attention. Hopefully we’ll see LGBTQ youth in Philadelphia in particular enjoying an ongoing positive impact.

The NBA Catalyzing Repeal of HB2 in North Carolina

In the winter of 2016, North Carolina‘s fairly conservative legislature passed a bill that required people to use the restroom meant for their gender assigned at birth, among other discriminatory clauses. Infamously known as the “bathroom bill,” the legislation’s passage sparked protests not just within the state but around the entire country. These included businesses pulling activity from the state, with perhaps the most notable example coming from the NBA.

The league had planned to host is 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte, but wound up moving the game to New Orleans, with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) moving games outside of the state as well. Considering how central basketball, especially at the college level, is to the State of North Carolina, these boycotts were major news, and sparked even more demand for the bill to be repealed. A year after the NBA moved its All-Star Game, the NCAA (not typically a paragon of virtue itself) told the state legislature that it had two days to repeal the law or else the state wouldn’t be allowed to host any championship games for five years. It was this pressure from these basketball organizations in part that finally led to a partial repeal of the law, and the All Star Game returned to Charlotte in 2019.

All of these initiatives by NBA teams, players, and administrators have us feeling optimistic about the future of the relationship between the league and the LGBTQ community. There’s a long way to go, and the NBA remains imperfect from a social activism standpoint. But it’s trending progressive, which should continue to yield meaningful results.

Chase is the founder and Creative Director of therepubliq.com, former host and Executive Producer of OutCast Austin, an award-winning LGBT weekly radio program on KOOP 91.7 FM in Austin. In 2011, he was named the Critics Pick for 'Most Gaybiquitous' in the Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin. In 2012, CultureMap Austin named him one of Austin's Top LGBT bloggers and he received the AGLCC's Chamber Award for Social Media Diva.

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