Sometimes I completely misjudge whether a local story is going to become nationally relevant. A couple of things have happened in my backyard this week, one of which you may have read about yesterday, as it bounced around the corners of the gay-o-sphere and the netroots.

In the first, a softball team with a lesbian coach was banned from joining the softball league at Bellevue Baptist Church:

A local women’s softball coach said her team was banned from a Bellevue Baptist Church league after she acknowledged she is gay.

Jana J. Jacobson said church officials told her the “deviant” lifestyle would prevent the team from competing in Bellevue’s adult women’s softball league.


In May, Jacobson’s team, composed of straight and gay players, many of whom play one night a week in Bartlett, was looking for more games. They discovered Bellevue was allowing teams not associated with the Cordova church to join.

She registered, paid the entry fee and attended the preseason organizational meeting. This included outlines of league rules: no alcohol, smoking or cursing and no offensive terms on uniforms. She does not recall there being any morality clause.


According to Jacobson, Scotty Shows, the church’s recreation minister who also attended the second meeting, told her that because she was gay the team could not play. She was told that the team’s participation would send a message to Bellevue members that the church condoned her lifestyle.

Okay, let me offer a little local perspective for those of you who aren’t familiar with Bellevue. Bellevue Baptist Church is a mega-church of the first order in the Memphis suburbs. They have a congregation somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-27,000 members, a campus which covers many acres in suburban Memphis, and three giant crosses erected on Interstate 40, which are visible for miles. Bellevue was recently the host of a rally called “Stand for the Family,” at which Tony Perkins and Harry Jackson had a contest to see how many times they could invoke the gay menace in two hours. Bellevue also, by virtue of its insane coffers of cash and location, has a great sports complex, which ties them into the greater community. The softball team in question was playing in Bartlett originally, which is just to the north of Bellevue. So when Bellevue put out a call to let outside teams join their softball league, it wasn’t unreasonable for this team, from Bartlett, to say “Hey, that’s an idea,” and give Bellevue a call.

I point all this out so that people understand that this was not a Horde of Angry Lesbians nailing 99 copies of Indigo Girls’ self-titled album to the (truly enormous) doors of the innocent megachurch in the suburbs, which was, incidentally, minding its own business trying to find new and more dramatic ways to hurt gay families. (Grin. That would be a funny protest tactic.) This was simply Bellevue trying to have it both ways: putting out a call to “the community” for more softball teams, and then clenching up and losing it when they found out that members of “the community” were Evil Gays And Lesbians Trying To Ruin Everything.

Just so you all know, Bellevue isn’t faring well in the local PR department over this issue. If you read the comments section from The Commercial Appeal article (linked above), you’ll see that, though there are those who support Bellevue, most of the 865 (and growing) comments are supportive of the softball team.

Bellevue’s actions are not surprising, though. It’s not like the softball team wants to attend church at Bellevue. (As if.) But for a cloistered church like that, which has built a giant wall of separation meant to keep all messages of reality away from its parishioners, the mere presence of happy, healthy, well-adjusted lesbians on the softball field is, indeed, a huge threat. They say they’re worried that it sends a message that they “condone” the “lifestyle,” but when you read between the lines, it’s easy to see what they’re scared of. Bellevue and similar churches have a fierce need to keep as many of their people from knowing the reality of gay people as they possibly can. They know, on some level, that those who know gay people tend to support us, because they can easily see that the Religious Right garbage about LGBT people and families is simply untrue. Those lies only resonate among people who are “protected” from reality, just as the lie of creationism only resonates among those who have never been taught real science.

So hopefully that adds some context to a story you read about yesterday. I promise I’ll try to be better about throwing local stories into the national gay-o-sphere to see if they stick, because I totally heard about this last Saturday at an art opening.

Bad Evan.

This next story, though, may not get as much press, because it was resolved so quickly and painlessly. A lesbian couple went to the recreation center at the University of Memphis and tried to purchase a family membership, at which point they were rebuffed, because they didn’t meet the criteria of “family” according to the school’s policies. News quickly spread, via Facebook, and many calls were made to the University President’s office. One of those calls was made by yours truly, and I had a lovely conversation with the woman who answered the phone in the President’s office. Those of us who were sounding the alarm on this were trying with all our might to encourage people to be respectful and friendly when they called, though there were a couple of calls made which didn’t fit into that category. Part of the reason that was important was that the University of Memphis has a fairly good track record when it comes to being inclusive and nondiscriminatory, and I had a suspicion that this was more of an oversight than anything else, perhaps an issue that just hadn’t come up. Turns out my suspicion was correct. Wendi Thomas, the best columnist in Memphis, wrote an update to this story yesterday:

Starting Wednesday, the University of Memphis began offering family memberships to its student recreation center to students who can prove they’re living in a family unit, regardless of the sexual orientation of the family’s adults.

The university, not known for speedy bureaucratic moves, took less than a week to change its membership policy, after hearing from a concerned student, Edie Love, and her supporters.

Love, a senior, simply wanted to take her four children and her wife to the UofM’s rec center, just blocks from their house.


It will take a few days to finalize the language in the new policy, and a few more days to get the new policy on the university’s website, Lipman said, but she’s already instructed the student rec center to begin accepting the new memberships.

Love, who learned of the decision after she’d met with Lipman on Wednesday morning, is elated and expects her children and her wife to be in the pool by the end of the week.

In the end, the university was able to offer healthy living opportunities to all of its students and their families for the family fee of $45.

However, the downside to this, as Wendi goes on to explain, is that decidedly not all of the calls to the University were friendly in nature, and apparently one caller even used racist language.

Many [called the university] — several, unfortunately, using profanity. Lipman said one male caller stated that while black people had ruined the city, they expected more from the university.

Except he didn’t call African-Americans black, he instead used the six-letter n-word.

Whoever you are who did that, and there’s a good chance I know you, nice job, champ. Way to fight for the equality of one group, while simultaneously insulting another!

My god. This should be a lesson to some of our brothers and sisters who are of the firecracker variety, those who seem to always be looking for a fight. You need to know who it is you’re talking to before you fly off the handle. The fact that the University of Memphis is a strong ally for the causes of equality and tolerance is fairly well known and/or easy to find out. There was no good excuse for taking this as an opportunity to browbeat University officials or, worse, to go all Southern-Fried Racist on them.

Because I guarantee you, the University didn’t (quickly!) change this policy because of the people who called into abuse them, but rather in response to the other discussions they had, which, in a friendly, constructive way, brought to their attention an injustice that had been overlooked. Because really, in the year 2010, not everybody is out to get gays and lesbians! Sometimes people just need the friendly help of the community to make sure everybody is treated equally. In this case the University changed its policies within the first half of a week in the summer, simply because it was brought to their attention. Those who took the opportunity to abuse the University staff acted no better than the wingnuts who actually do discriminate against gay people, like those in the Bellevue story above.

Moral of story: Some cases of discrimination are overt, obvious, and motivated by animus. Some are just oversights from friends and allies. It’s useful to find out which you’re dealing with before you fly off the handle, okay?

UPDATE: In perusing the comments on Wendi Thomas’s piece about the University of Memphis, I literally LOLed when I read one of the early comments. The fifteeneth comment says, “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Does the word abomination mean anything anymore? It will someday though it will be too late for so many.” A stupid, trite comment, to be sure, from the sort of person who can’t think of anything to say, so instead just regurgitates the words from Fred Phelps’ tamer posters. Two comments later was when I LOLed:


Well played!