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Lesbians and Sports

Discrimination on the Basketball Team

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Lesbians play sports. Just like lesbians are doctors, lawyers, bankers and truck drivers. Sports teams, like the local city softball league, may seem like safe places for lesbians, but often homophobia and discrimination are very present in women's sports.

No Lesbians Allowed

The National Center for Lesbian Rights has a mission to fight homophobia in sports. They are calling on Penn State University to take action against Penn State Lady Lions coach Rene Portland for years of discrimination and intimidation of lesbian ballplayers.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights released a statement that says "Coach Portland's anti-gay recruiting methods and infamous 'no lesbians' policy has continued for nearly three decades. It is time for Penn State to step up and put an end to this overt illegal activity."

The National Center for Lesbian Rights sent a letter on behalf of former Penn State women's basketball star Jennifer Harris to Penn State University President Graham Spanier, demanding that action be taken against Lady Lions basketball coach Rene Portland for her decades-long policy of harassing players whom Coach Portland believed to be lesbians.

Despite Harris' outstanding performance as a player during her two-year career at Penn State from 2003 to 2005, Coach Portland repeatedly questioned Harris about her sexual orientation, repeatedly threatened to kick Harris off the team if she found out Harris was a lesbian, and eventually told other players not to associate with Harris because she believed that Harris was gay. In 2005, Coach Portland abruptly told Harris to find somewhere else to play.

Player Kicked off Team for suspicion of being Gay

Jen Harris was left with little choice. She sought out the legal advice from the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Jen was a star player and a star scholar. She had this to say, "My departure from Penn State was very painful. I struggled with whether I should just walk away and try to forget what happened. I finally realized that I could never put this incident behind me as long as other students were being subjected to the same sort of humiliation and discrimination I experienced from Coach Portland. In the end, I knew I had to speak out. Coach Portland very nearly destroyed not only my athletic career, but also my dream of completing my education and becoming a doctor. I do not want to see a single other student damaged in this way."

"Because Coach Portland thought that I was gay, I was treated in a very demeaning manner," said Harris. "Coach Portland created an offensive, hostile and intimidating learning environment for players she believed were gay. She created divisiveness on the team by instructing players not to associate with other players she believed to be gay, or they would be kicked off the team also."

Harris transferred to James Madison University. Because of NCAA rules, she will have to sit out for the 2005-2006 season.

A History of Discrimination at Penn State

The National Center for Lesbian Rights has claimed that Rene Portland has maintained a "no lesbians" policy on the Penn State Women's Basketball Team for years. Portland was quoted in a 1986 interview in the Chicago Sun-Times as having a “no-alcohol, no-drugs, no-lesbians” policy.

“I will not have it in my program,” she was quoted as saying. “I bring it up and the kids are so relieved and the parents are so relieved.”

According to a report on MSNBC, Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon said the school had found no evidence that Harris ever complained to the university or any campus groups about her treatment by the coach.

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