Bianca Henninger hopes to help young people struggling with their sexual orientation.
By Jenny Block
Photos by ISI Photos
Houston Dash goalkeeper Bianca Henninger says she doesn’t think she has officially come out to the world publicly—until now.
Although Henninger has never tried to hide her sexual orientation, she says she likes to keep her personal life private.
But Henninger says she agreed to an interview with OutSmart in hopes that coming out as a professional athlete will help other LGBTQ people, especially youth.
“I’m comfortable with who I am, so I don’t have a problem saying it. I just didn’t feel like it was necessary,” Henninger says. “At the end of the day, though, you never know who you specifically are going to connect with. Maybe you’ll run into someone at a game or an appearance or in passing who, for whatever reason, is struggling with it and hasn’t connected with someone who is out, and it’ll make their process easier.
“People are here for you, and there is, without a single doubt in my mind, a place for you in this world—no matter what,” Henninger adds. “I feel like what’s going on in the world right now [sends the wrong message] to a lot of people, especially kids, that it’s not OK to be who they are. That’s how you lose people in this world, when they stop being who they are.”
Henninger, a 27-year-old native of Los Gatos, California, who is in her fifth season with the Dash, becomes one of at least three openly LGBTQ players on the team, along with 26-year-old midfielder Meleana Shim, and 31-year-old defender Janine van Wyk.
As out athletes, Henninger, Shim, and van Wyk are helping to conquer what is often referred to as the last frontier for LGBTQ rights, professional sports.
While several women’s pro soccer and women’s pro basketball teams include openly LGBTQ players, only one active male player in any of the four major men’s sports, the NBA’s Jason Collins, has come out as gay.
Both Henninger and van Wyk say it helps to know that the Dash, Houston’s National Women’s Soccer League franchise launched in 2014, fully supports them.
“You can come to a Dash game and be totally comfortable with being yourself,” Henninger says. “I’m happy that the Dash has made what we stand for explicitly clear, and I’m proud to be part of an organization and league that is on that level.”
On June 22, the Dash will host an LGBTQ Pride Night. The team also held a Pride Night in 2017, but this year marks the first time the team has partnered with Pride Houston.
The Dash are also the only major pro sports team in Houston that currently hosts a Pride Night. While the Astros hosted one in 2010, the current World Series champions have not hosted a Pride event since then.
“We are strengthening our relationships with organizations like Pride Houston to get the message out that we are excited about the support shown to the team by the LGBT community,” says David Brady, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash. “The Houston Dash have been very popular with the LGBT community since the team launched, and they have shown us and our players great support.”
In fact, Henninger and van Wyk aren’t the first openly LGBTQ players in the Dash’s five-year history. Ella Masar and Erin McLeod made headlines when they were married in 2015 while they were both still members of the Dash.
“We’re proud to be a part of that community all year-round, and this game is a great opportunity to celebrate that relationship and put a spotlight on it,” Brady adds. “I hope this is an opportunity for someone who has never tried the Dash game experience to come out with a group of friends or their family and get to know the team and players.”
According to OutSports.com, eight of the nine teams in the National Women’s Soccer League will host LGBTQ Pride Nights this year.
“Every demonstration of acceptance in sports helps someone accept themselves for who they are,” OutSports’ co-founder Cyd Zeigler tells OutSmart. “These kinds of events were unthinkable 20 years ago. Now they are mainstream. Their widespread presence in sports today shows how much the sports world has changed.
“All of these events are about wrapping the giant arms of sports around the people who are still struggling with who they are—or that dad who may still not accept his gay son—and telling them they have a place in our society’s most powerful cultural institution: sports,” Zeigler adds. “To really show how incredibly inclusive the world of American sports has become, we need more and more athletes to come out. Hopefully, the explosion of these Pride Nights helps more people do just that.”
What: Houston Dash LGBTQ Pride Night
When: 7:30 p.m. on June 22
Where: BBVA Compass Stadium, 2200 Texas St.
This article appears in the June 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.