Athlete Ally on Dwight Howard, Homophobia and Transphobia in Sport & Society

Athlete Ally responded today to allegations against NBA player Dwight Howard for harassment and threats, and to the public perception and media coverage on Howard’s alleged relationships with gay men and trans women.

First and foremost, we strongly believe that allegations of harassment and violence should be taken seriously and properly investigated. We stand with survivors of violence and abuse, and in recognition of the tremendous courage it takes to come forward in the wake of intimidation and fear.

Howard’s particular situation brings up a series of issues. We are deeply troubled by how this story is being covered. Salacious headlines using the incorrect terminology to refer to trans women and depicting Howard’s alleged relations with trans women as “outrageous” and “scandalous” only further transphobic stigma. As Trace Lysette said, there is nothing shameful about loving or desiring trans women. By implying that it is shameful, the media is perpetuating the dehumanization of an already marginalized population during what experts have called the deadliest year on record for trans people.

We believe it is not our place to assume or speculate as to Howard’s sexuality or identity. This situation brings to light a larger problem around homophobia and transphobia within sport and society as a whole. Societal perception and ignorance like this around LGBTQ issues are exactly why we have so few out LGBTQ athletes. While the presence of out athletes like Jason Collins and Billie Jean King has opened doors and changed some hearts and minds, still 80% of athletes report witnessing or experiencing homophobia in sports, and LGBTQ athletes are nearly twice as likely as their cisgender heterosexual peers to drop out of sport as a result.

We have a long way to go as a society, and as an athletic community, to dismantle the stigma and shame surrounding sexuality and gender identity. If we are to create a world where LGBTQ people can live openly and safely, we need to start by examining where violence is rooted, and committing ourselves to bringing it into the light.