PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday May 7th, 2013, 7:12pm

LGBT Advocates, Sports Leaders Urge Chicago City Council To Pass Resolution In Support Of Gay Athletes (VIDEO)

Chicago-area LGBT organizations and members of the sports world testified at a public hearing Tuesday in support of a resolution that encourages commissioners of major sports leagues to publicly state support for their gay athletes. The resolution is expected to go up for a full city council vote Wednesday.

Chicago-area LGBT organizations and members of the sports world testified at a public hearing Tuesday in support of a resolution that encourages commissioners of major sports leagues to publicly state support for their gay athletes.

The resolution, which is slated to go up for a full Chicago City Council vote Wednesday, also asks sports commissioners to publicly invite their gay athletes to come out, while also ensuring athletes that they will be safe and accepted if they choose to do so. 

“Our youth need gay sports heroes,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th) at Tuesday’s Committee on Human Relations hearing. “It is fitting that Chicago, as a progressive, LGBT-friendly city that hosts several professional teams, assumes a leadership role on this important issue.”   

Moore, who chairs the human relations committee, introduced the resolution April 10. Alds. Tom Tunney (44th) and James Cappleman (46th), along with 18 other cosponsors, also support the measure. 

“I don’t know any person my age who’s openly gay who’s not experienced violence in some way or another,” said Cappleman. “It’s so, so important that we stand up for this last group that experiences so much prejudice — those in sports.”

The upcoming city council vote on the resolution comes just weeks after Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the National Hockey League (NHL), announced on camera that he welcomes gay athletes to the league. Speakers at the hearing said the other four national league commissioners need to follow suit.

And last week, NBA player Jason Collins publicly announced that he is gay.

Dan Lobring, senior director of communications for the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, said the club’s fans are outspoken LGBT supporters.

“I think that they would expect us to be here, not so much politically, but because it’s the right thing,” Lobring said in remarks before the meeting. “I think you’ve seen with the Jason Collins announcement that the overwhelming response has been positive.”

If the resolution passes, it could be a model for other cities and counties across the nation to follow in efforts to help “open the closet doors of professional sports,” Moore said.

The San Francisco-based Last Closet, a web campaign and video project aimed to end homophobia in men’s professional sports, led the push for a similar resolution that passed in San Francisco in 2012. 

The Last Closet is one of the groups leading the resolution efforts in Chicago. Members of the campaign plan to approach Boston, New York City, Los Angeles and other cities next, said the Last Closet’s project director Fawn Yacker.

“Our ultimate goal was to have these athletes come out, so that LGBT youth, who so often are struggling with self acceptance and way too often attempting or succeeding in taking their lives, could finally have role models in professional sports,” she said. “And young athletes aspiring to the pros could finally feel secure that once they were there, they would not be alone.”

The three aldermen, along with Last Closet members and other supporters, will hold a press conference at City Hall on Wednesday before the council meeting.

Yacker said she plans to discuss the Last Closet campaign. But she will also celebrate, she said.

“In the last couple of months there’s been so much progress in the LGBT sports movement,” Yacker said in remarks before the hearing. “Players are coming out. Commissioners are welcoming their gay players to the sport. There’s been so much movement, and it’s just sort of mind-boggling.”

Here’s more from Yacker on the history of the Last Closet, the resolution in San Francisco and the next steps for Chicago:

Fallon Fox, a transgender mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, said children see LGBT athletes as “symbols of hope for the future.”

“They see us as courageous, as their heroes, just as other minority groups have looked upon professional athletes in the same way,” Fox said.

She said it’s time for Chicago to pass a resolution in support of LGBT athletes.

“Let Chicago outwardly show that we have begun to throw away the subtle bigotry that has been aimed towards the LGBT community in the past,” Fox said.

Christina Kahrl, a transgender writer at ESPN.com, said if people working in sports off the field can be out, then people on the field should enjoy the same freedom and right to do their jobs.

“We must do the right thing for all,” Kahrl said. “We must do it now, and we must follow the National Hockey League’s example and do it together. Professional sports has within it the strength and courage to accept LGBT people. Let them accept LGBT athletes as well.”

Tom Elliot, spokesman with the Center on Halsted, talked with Progress Illinois about some local sports teams, such as the Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago Cubs, that are already working with the LGBT community. He also noted the resolution’s potential impact on national sports commissioners:

The Chicago Bears submitted a written statement for the public hearing, which Moore read to the audience:

The Chicago Bears believe everyone should have the opportunity to participate in athletics. One of the great aspects about sports is they bring people together from a variety of different backgrounds and lifestyles and unite them for a common goal. At the Bears, we foster an atmosphere of respect and acceptance so all employees feel comfortable as a member of the team.

“It falls a little short of the magic words ‘LGBT,’ but we're talking baby steps here,” Moore said. “I appreciate them taking the time to submit this statement.”

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