Lone Star Shame

I grew up rooting for the Texas Rangers. Every Pride season they betray fans like me.

Matt Douglass and his dad at Game 3 of the 2010 World Series
Matt Douglass and his dad, Steve, at Game 3 of the 2010 World Series

Every openly queer person has their coming-out story. Mine began in the fall of 2002, in my parents’ living room in Amarillo, Texas, a small city hundreds of miles northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro area. After I came out to them as gay, my mom’s knee-jerk, red-faced response was swift and stern: “You mean you’re choosing to be gay. Why are you even telling us this?”

When I later told her about my first visit to a Pride parade, she asked me “what the hell is there to be proud of?”

The implication, of course, was that I should feel the exact opposite of pride: shame about my sexual orientation.

I don’t fault my mom for those opinions. She was the product of her surrounding culture. People she knew (or, in the case of out queer folks: people she didn’t know), discriminatory messages emanating from her church’s pulpit, and perhaps most especially: a near-total lack of visibility of gay people in mass media. As with the vast majority of American families, we feasted heavily on sports fandom in our media diet. For my mom, dad, and me, that meant baseball and the Texas Rangers.

In 2001, the Chicago Cubs hosted Major League Baseball’s first public event marketed toward the LGBTQ+ community. Slowly but surely, year after year, more teams began announcing Pride Nights at their ballparks. Take a quick glance at MLB’s 2021 June calendar and, in recognition of their diverse fan bases, you’ll see Pride month promotions on all but one of MLB’s teams’ schedules.

The lone holdout? You guessed it. My beloved Rangers.

Adding a promotional Pride Night to a team’s schedule may seem like a meaningless gesture designed merely to juice ticket sales for a single day, but it’s certainly not meaningless to the gay kids growing up in rural communities. Nor to their parents. To this day, I feel unseen and unvalued by the franchise that I’ve rooted for since Pete Incaviglia’s rookie season.

Some would point to the geography and politics of the state as an excuse for Rangers brass refusing to hold a promotional Pride game. Except the Stars, Wings, FC Dallas, and Mavericks all hold Pride events each season and have for many years. So this isn’t a DFW market thing. This is very clearly a courage thing. Or, to be more precise, a complete lack of courage on the part of team owners (Ray Davis & Bob Simpson) and management (Neil Leibman, John Blake, Jon Daniels, Chris Young, Chuck Morgan, Chris Woodward).

Is this what they want their collective legacy to be, while at the helm of this franchise? If Rangers leadership wants to know what they’re risking by continuing to stand in glaring opposition to a more inclusive social fabric, they need look no further than the infamous legacy of Tom Yawkey and the Red Sox at the tail end of baseball’s integration of Black players.

Standing in stark contrast to the Rangers are the San Francisco Giants. Just last weekend, they blazed a new trail for other franchises to follow when they not only flew trans and pride flags at Oracle Park, but even adorned their hats and jersey sleeves with the rainbow colors of the Progress Pride flag and had the fabulously talented Honey Mahogany sing our National Anthem. The Rangers front office could learn a thing or two about courage from veteran third baseman, Evan Longoria.

At this point, it won’t be enough for the Texas baseball franchise to merely add a Pride Game to the 2022 promotional schedule and call it a day. Now that they are the sole glaring exception in the major leagues, the Rangers’ responsibility is even greater than the other 29. They must make meaningful, lasting, sincere outreach to the Metroplex LGBTQ+ community. Dallas-area non-profits that help LGBTQ+ homeless youth, like Outlast Youth, could do an immense amount of life-saving good with a sizable donation from the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation, for example.

In the ensuing years after coming out, I learned of gay baseball pioneers Glenn Burke (fun fact: he popularized the High Five!), Billy Bean, Kevin McClatchy, Dale Scott. They each have their own stories of courage and tragedy to tell, and in each of them, I see hope for a stronger, more inclusive future for baseball. And each team’s ownership has an outsized role to play in determining how fast that future arrives.

Countless baseball and Rangers memorabilia sat next to my mom and dad on their coffee table and adorned the living room walls during that most difficult of conversations almost two decades ago. I can’t help but think back on that time and wonder how that conversation might have gone differently had my parents witnessed just a modicum of positive representation of LGBTQ+ people in the media. In fact, I *know* it would have gone differently. When we reconciled 10 years later, she told me that when she saw the first gay kiss on Days of Our Lives in 2012, she suddenly realized that there simply wasn’t anything for her to be afraid of.

There are hundreds of thousands of queer kids in Texas right now whose mental health and relationships with their families depend greatly on the example set by our surrounding culture, its media, and–yes–even our communities’ sports teams. So what are the Texas Rangers waiting for? It’s far past time they at least do the bare minimum: make 2021 the final year without an LGBTQ+ Pride Game in Arlington.

Matt Douglass, an avid fan of baseball and the Texas Rangers since the mid-80s, has attended games at 32 Major League ballparks (including a handful of sold-out LGBTQ+ Pride Games). When he’s not watching baseball or reading about baseball or having nightmares about the 2011 World Series, he works in tech.

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