Playing with Pride
Three local sports teams host Pride-themed games this month.
One year after the Houston Astros first announced plans to inaugurate their annual Pride celebrations, that promise is becoming a reality.
When the Astros face off against the Texas Rangers on June 16 at Minute Maid Park, it will be happening on their first annual Pride Night. The celebration will be a historic event for Houston’s LGBTQ community because both Major League Baseball (MLB) teams lagged behind the rest of the league in adopting the tradition, according to the LGBTQ sports publication Outsports. The Texas Rangers are now the lone holdout among the 30 MLB teams.
Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce President Tammi Wallace says the staging of a Pride celebration by the Astros is important—both to the LGBTQ community and to the city’s economic development. Events like these can show the nation that Houston lives up to its promise of being an open, inclusive, and welcoming city.
“I’ve been to tons of Astro games over 36 years, but it’s a whole different experience when we walk through the doors of the stadium to celebrate Pride,” Wallace says. “It speaks volumes about the team, and about our city.”
The Astros’ Pride celebration is just one of the Pride Nights that the LGBT Chamber has been encouraging Houston’s sports teams to host, including the Houston Dash, the Houston Dynamo, the Houston Rockets, and the Houston SaberCats. Those teams have each had (or will have) LGBTQ-themed events this year.
The Astros had announced a Pride celebration at a June 2020 game, but pandemic restrictions canceled those plans. “We were incredibly disappointed that we couldn’t hold a Pride Night. We had been working on big plans with them.”
The Chicago Cubs started the Pride Night tradition among MLB clubs in 2001, and their event is now called Out at Wrigley Field.
After reading the discouraging story published by Outsports, Wallace decided to reach out to Astros management. She drafted a letter to owner Jim Crane that pointed out how diverse Houston is, and the negative optics of his team being viewed nationally as behind the times. “It was a huge miss not to have a Pride Night. To their credit, they were very supportive.”
Only two MLB players are known to have been openly gay. Glenn Lawrence Burke, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics, came out as gay to his teams’ owners and teammates. Burke is credited with inventing the “high-five” tradition after he ran on the field to congratulate a player for hitting a home run. He finally came out publicly by saying, “They can’t ever say now that a gay man can’t play in the majors, because I’m a gay man and I made it.” Sadly, Burke died of AIDS-related causes in 1995.
In 1999, MLB player Bill Bean revealed his sexual orientation, but not until four years after his retirement.
The Houston Rockets had also planned a Pride celebration for 2020 that had to be canceled, and it finally happened this year at a game on April 14. The Rockets are now one of the few National Basketball Association (NBA) teams observing Pride with an LGBTQ-themed event. The Golden State Warriors hosted the first NBA Pride celebration in 2018. Rick Welts, the team’s former president, is openly gay.
The Rockets reached out to Wallace and the LGBT Chamber of Commerce for help in staging their April event. “The Rockets have just been so supportive, from the front office all the way down,” she says.
There are currently no NBA athletes who are out. Jason Paul Collins, formerly of the Washington Wizards, became the first active player to come out in 2013. He retired a year later.
The Houston Dynamo and the Houston Dash soccer clubs have been celebrating Pride since at least 2015—longer than any other Houston sports teams. In 2018, Dash goalkeeper Bianca Henniger came out as gay, saying she wanted to encourage other LGBTQ people as they struggled with coming out. The Houston Dynamo will celebrate Pride on June 23 during a game against the Portland Timbers; the Houston Dash Pride Night game will be June 26 against the Orlando Pride. Both games start at 7:30 p.m. at BBVA Stadium.
The Pride Project analyzed social-media responses to MLB’s Pride Night events nationwide in 2020 after the Outsports story was published. (MLB’s Pride Nights range from large productions to simple discounts on game tickets.) The analysis showed that Pride events draw large numbers of LGBTQ fans to the games, including many who otherwise might not feel comfortable attending professional sporting events. The bottom line is that teams benefit financially from the additional ticket sales, and the positive optics of helping to normalize a marginalized group may also help active team members become more comfortable about coming out.
For Astros June 16 Pride Night information, visit astros.com/pride
For Dynamo June 23 Pride Night information, visit houstondynamo.com
For Dash June 26 Pride Night information, visit houstondashsoccer.com
This article appears in the June 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.