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Transgender people--more specifically, people who were born male but present themselves as female--are Brazil's single most marginalized group.
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Brittney Griner. Photo by Sphilbrick (CC by SA).
Congratulations to basketball phenom Brittney Griner on her amazing athletic achievements and on her courage and commitment. After leading Baylor University to a national championship, the three-time All-American won her second consecutive Wade Trophy as Defensive Player of the Year, her second consecutive Naismith Trophy as Women's College Player of the Year, her second consecutive John R. Wooden Award as Preeminent Women's Collegiate Basketball Player, and became the top pick in the WNBA draft when she was chosen by the Phoenix Mercury. In addition, she quietly acknowledged her lesbianism and dedicated herself to becoming "a light who inspires others."
For various reasons, Griner's matter-of-fact coming out created nothing like the media frenzy that Jason Collins's coming out as the first active gay player in male professional team sports did. This was partly because there have already been a number of lesbian sports champions from Babe Didrikson to Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, including three-time Olympian and WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes.
But the significance of Griner's coming out should not be underestimated. She is a dominant player who will have enormous influence on women's basketball. She has also demonstrated great poise and self-confidence in the face of bullying and denigration. She is not only an accomplished athlete but also a remarkable young woman.
In an essay published in the New York Times on May 5, 2013, Griner recounts her elation at Jason Collins's announcement and goes on to tell her own story.
Unlike Collins, Griner seems to have had little difficulty in accepting her homosexuality. In the ninth grade, she came out uneventfully to her mother: "I was leaning against a wall in our house at the time, not doing anything in particular. For whatever reason, at that moment I let my mom know I was gay. It wasn't planned. It just popped out. She gave me a hug, smiled and told me she loved me, and I went back upstairs to my room. Simple as that."
"I knew then that it didn't matter what my sexuality was; my mom and family would always love me for who I am. For me, the simplicity behind coming out was both powerful and beautiful. No drama, just acceptance and love."
Although she did not struggle with her sexuality, she was nevertheless tormented by others. "I was bullied in every way imaginable," she writes, "but the worst was the verbal abuse. (I was always a strong, tough and tall girl, so nobody wanted to mess with me from a physical standpoint.) It hit rock bottom when I was in seventh grade. I was in a new school with people I didn't know, and the teasing about my height, appearance and sexuality went on nonstop, every day."
"People called me a dude and said there was no way I could be a woman. . . . During high school and college, when we traveled for games, people would shout the same things while also using racial epithets and terrible homophobic slurs."
She adds, "When I was young, I put on a face as if it didn't hurt, but it's painful to be called hateful names and made fun of because people thought my feet were huge or that I looked like a guy. It was hard to hear antigay slurs under their breath whenever I walked by them. It always confused me; I never thought that to be beautiful, you had to look any certain way at all. In my opinion, you're beautiful because you are you."
She acknowledges that "I've had moments when I questioned my place in the world. At times, especially in seventh grade, life was lonely and I'd often feel sad. I never wanted to deny who I was, but dealing with the sadness and the anger that came from people constantly making fun of me wore me down at times. I relied heavily on my mom, family and friends to lift my spirits and help me through it--and still do."
Griner expresses confidence in the future and welcomes the increased pace of change.
"Jason Collins's announcement, with the support he has received, has already made me more optimistic than ever that people are ready. More important, that the pace of change is picking up. That's why I have become involved in the It Gets Better project, whose mission is to inspire hope for young people facing harassment and bullying. Because, people, it's time for bullying to end. Nobody should have to hear the types of things I did or to feel the way I have."
She says that "Countless people have come up to me and thanked me for being proud of who I am," and concludes by accepting the obligation to "be a light who inspires others."
In the video below, Griner is welcomed to the WNBA by the Phoenix Mercury, who chose her as this season's first draft pick.
Below is Brittney Griner's "It Gets Better" video.