Thursday, October 13, 2005
Will Nobody Stop This Woman?
Rene Portland has been one of the most well-known homophobes in women's sports for years. The coach of Penn State Lady Lions basketball has had an anti-lesbian policy in place for players and recruits for over two decades, which means that she tells her players and their parents that lesbianism will not be tolerated on her team. She has players suspected of lesbianism followed, harassed, and thrown off her basketball organization, which at the very least traumatizes young women just coming to terms with their sexuality, and at its worst means the end of their sports scholarships, good relations with their families, and for many, the end of both their basketball careers and their hopes for a college education.
I first heard about Portland when I came to Penn State in 1984, not sure what I wanted to do with my life, doing what many English majors do when they're not sure what to do with their lives, which is to get an MA in English. The sports culture of State College was a shock to me after my small liberal arts college feminist years, where I had absorbed the idea that sports were bad to women and sports culture sexist and redneck. What I discovered at Penn State in the eighties was not only a college town mad about sports, which I expected, but a sports culture that attracted more lesbians than I had ever seen living in one place. The women's teams, the sports medicine and exercise physiology programs, the wholesome culture of health and competition--all of these brought players, coaches, and the lesbians who love them to central Pennsylvania's Happy Valley in droves. I came there hoping to withstand the atmosphere and leave quickly. I stayed for five years--longer than I should have-- because I found the largest and nicest lesbian community I have ever known and ever would know.
I like to point out to people who express surprise that I once lived there that it was a time in my life when my social circle was so large, I couldn't invite fewer than twenty lesbians over at a time without offending someone by leaving them out. And the parties--the parties attracted hundreds of people, people from all over the state and beyond who had once attended school there, or dated someone who did. Many of the social gatherings revolved around football games. But the best part of the year was women's basketball season, when the dykes came out in droves to support the Lady Lions.
I remember standing in a bar in State College one fall friday night in 1984, listening in horror to two former basketball players who had long since left town telling their stories about being thrown off Rene Portland's team because they were gay. Both of them had lost their sports scholarships; one of them had never gone back to college and was permanently estranged from her family. They were nice people, soft-spoken women who had learned that talent and drive and discipline were not enough in a world that loves lesbians in theory, especially in porn, and hates them in practice. Other lesbians at the bar listened, and many of them nodded. They knew about this already. It was part of what it meant to be gay, and a woman, in mainstream America.
I'm sure lots of lesbians still go to women's basketball games in State College, as they do all over the country when the season starts. Every few years a story surfaces about Portland, and my hopes rise that this time something will be done about her. But nothing ever happens. Her teams are fairly successful year after year, and at a school as conservative as Penn State, it seems unlikely that a winning coach will be fired any time soon for homophobia. Now a former player has spoken up, a woman who claims that she was forced to transfer after two successful years on the team because Portland's harassment had grown unbearable. The story appeared on gay sites two days ago, on National Coming Out Day, but seems to be receding once more. Will nobody stop Rene Portland from harassing young women, ruining their careers, and wrecking their families and hopes for an education in the name of her hate and intolerance? WiIl nobody ever stop this woman?