Sunday, 29 January 2012

THE DAY NFL LEGEND DAVID KOPAY BLEW OPEN THE LOCKER ROOM CLOSET, IN HIS OWN WORDS

Kopay’s coming out dropped a bomb on the NFL, and his autobiography The David Kopay Story topped the New York Times bestseller list for weeks in 1977
 
There are only a handful of athletes who are bigger than their sports, legends like Rocket Richard, Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King, Muhammad Ali and, for my money, former NFL running back David Kopay. To paraphrase famed American journalist Richard Harding Davis, many athletes can make plays, but few players make history.

And make no mistake, David Kopay made sports history as the first NFLer to come out back in 1975 during what can only be called pro sports’ Jurassic era.

Kopay’s coming out dropped a bomb on the NFL, and his autobiography The David Kopay Story topped the New York Times bestseller list for weeks in 1977. Kopay then championed gay civil rights when he spoke to Congress in 1977, the American Bar Association in 1979, and the American Association of Pediatrics in 1980. 

Kopay is also Tuaolo's hero
"I do feel special," Kopay says today. "I went up to Billie Jean [King] once and said, ‘I wished so badly when you were struggling with [your] coming out that I could have helped you.’ And she told me, ‘But if it wasn’t for your book I don’t know if I would have gotten there!’"

Says an awed Kopay, "That’s still unbelievable to me."

Kopay’s autobiography also literally saved the life of former Green Bay Packer and Atlanta Falcon Esera Tuaolo, who, when he came out on ESPN’s Real Sports in 2002, became just the third player in league history to do so (after Kopay and Roy Simmons who, when I interviewed him I also found to be very likeable).

"When David and I met for the first time [afterwards]," Tuaolo told me after the Super Bowl a few years ago, "I bawled like a baby. It was like, ‘You saved my life,’ and for him it was, ‘You are my confirmation.’"

Kopay played football at the University of Washington before playing in the NFL for 10 years with the San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers. He never made more than $29,000 a season during his NFL career and played without signing bonuses. Before being signed to the NFL, though, Kopay was offered a position with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes.

Says Kopay, "The CFL is a different and exciting game and gives athletes like Warren Moon and Doug Flutie a chance to play before going on to play in the NFL."

During his years in the NFL, Kopay knew there were other gay players, but he suspected few. Roy Simmons estimated in 2006 that there are roughly "one or two" gay players per team in the NFL. Kopay says, "I think there are players who could handle coming out today."

It’s true NFL teams – particularly the 49ers – have reached out, offering gay employees equal benefits and the like.

Kopay, when people still read magazines
But Kopay doesn’t think previous NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue – whose son is gay and is a member of PFLAG (an international support group that honoured Kopay in 1982) – could have done more to help gay players.

"He was a man of his time and finally when he was about to retire [in 2006] he was very supportive," Kopay says. "There’s more understanding [in the locker room today]. I think it’s gonna change really quickly from now on."

When it comes to testosterone in the locker room, Kopay pointedly says, "No gay player would dare say who’s got great asses – it was all the straight players! It’s always the straight players and they notice everything!"

Now 69, Kopay says, "I’ve had a difficult time the last few years with my body parts breaking down. I’ve had replacement hip surgery, surgery on my shoulders and rotary cuff. The doctor says it’s all related to my football days, but I’ve been able to rehabilitate all my injuries so that today I’m pain-free for the first time in years."

Kopay - whose L.A. linoleum business small-office wall is covered with photos and award plaques from his football days - in 2008 donated $1 million to establish the David Kopay Endowment Fund at the University of Washington, to support the Q Center which  provides professional support, advocacy and mentoring for students, faculty and staff with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender concerns.

"The greatest gift we can give one another is the vision and beauty of life," Kopay said in a written statement. "I continually hear from people all over the world that my act of coming out, especially when I did in 1975, has empowered them in their search for self and to see their vision. Hopefully, my million-dollar-pledge will influence others to support the University and the Q Center continue to help others to do just that." 

Kopay – a 2006 Gay Games ambassador horrified over the acrimonious split in the gay-sports movement and the $5.3 million the inaugural Montreal World Outgames lost that same year  ("I don't want to hear about it," Kopay told me, but you can read my no-holds-barred take on the entire fiasco by clicking here)  – never signed with the Montreal Alouettes. But he has visited Montreal five times over the years.

One winter he was in Montreal  with his good friend, American author Armistead Maupin who once told me, "One of the drawbacks of fame is there no longer is such a thing as anonymous sex."

Kopay and Maupin got caught in the middle of a classic Montreal blizzard. So they went to one of the city's world-renowned male strip joints where the boys take it all off and love exposing their hard-ons.

Kopay laughs. "We were like, ‘Can you believe this!’ I really enjoyed it. The way it’s done in Montreal, it’s not sleazy at all. The kids are enjoying themselves. And God knows they’re deserving of being worshipped!"

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

HAPPY 60th BIRTHDAY TO ICONIC GLOBAL GAY ACTIVIST PETER TATCHELL



(January 25)  Over the course of two decades U.K. gay activist Peter Tatchell has gone from being a nuisance (though he never was in my book) to a national treasure. Today, to mark his 60th birthday, famed writer and thespian Stephen Fry even wrote a poem to Tatchell:

You are maddening.
You are threatening.
You are insanely brave.
You have moved us forward.
You sometimes embarrass us.
We would so often look the other way.
But we owe you, Peter.
We owe you so much.
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you
Peter Tatchell
Scourge of hatred
And upholder of honour
You would hate to be called it
But you are our knight
Our champion
Our friend.
Happy birthday

As for myself, I remember an August 2004 cover story I'd written for Montreal's HOUR magazine about anti-gay dancehall reggae superstar Sizzla who was also the target of Tatchell's Stop Murder Music campaign (you can still read that cover story in its entirety by clicking here.)

"We won’t tolerate homosexuals, we won’t tolerate lesbians," Sizzla told me. "Once we stoop to sodomites and homosexuals, it is wrong! Wherever I go it is the same thing – burn sodomite, burn battyman."

My interview with Sizzla made national newscasts and international headlines, and the Montreal-based Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) unsuccessfully tried to shut down Sizzla’s Montreal concert.

"After our denunciation of Sizzla’s concert in Montreal in 2004, Foreign Affairs Canada’s office in Kingston, Jamaica, requires all artists to sign a formal declaration to respect Canadian laws and values on equality and non-discrimination," CRARR executive director Fo Niemi told me afterwards. "Obviously, this is not enough because some of these artists continue to promote anti-gay violence in their songs."

Sizzla held a press conference in Montreal that turned into a media frenzy with the dancehall star barely escaping in a black Cadillac SUV. Meanwhile, my Sizzla story in HOUR made national newscasts like Canada AM and the CTV National News, as well as international healdines (I was even vilified in the op-ed pages of Jamaica's national newspaper The Gleaner). I was interviewed on CBC Television, MusiquePlus and National Public Radio in America, and one Montreal radio DJ friend dubbed the scandal "Batty-gate."

Over in the U.K., the story was seized by Tatchell's gay activist group Outrage! for their Stop Murder Music campaign (click here to read Tatchell's statement about the story).

Sizzla was so pissed off about it all that he wrote his 2005 Caribbean hit song Nah Apologize (to No Batty Bwoy) about Tatchell and myself. (See the video below of Sizzla performing the song live in Toronto in 2006.)

Personally, it's an honour just to be mentioned in the same breath as Tatchell, and I want to thank him for all of his amazing gay activism over the years, and wish him much health and happiness on his 60th birthday!

Monday, 16 January 2012

THE DAY DR MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. FIRED BAYARD RUSTIN BECAUSE RUSTIN WAS GAY

Black gay icon Bayard Rustin organized the 1963 March on Washington (Photo from director Bennett Singer's 2003 documentary film Brother Outsider)

There is a rich history of anti-gay sentiment in black politics, notably the shunning of the godfather of America’s black civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin, who was even betrayed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..

The root of Rustin’s isolation was his arrest in Pasadena, California, the night of Jan. 21, 1953, when Bayard (then 41) was found making out with two hot young studs in the back seat of a car. He spent 60 days in prison.

Then, while leading the push for a strong civil rights plank at the 1960 Democratic Party convention, Rustin was attacked by – believe it or not – Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. as an "immoral element" in the civil rights movement.

Powell demanded Dr. King drop Rustin or he’d tell the press that King and Rustin were lovers (they weren’t). So King – to whom Rustin had taught non-violent protest at the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott – told Rustin to get lost.