I’ve been meaning to write about this for a long time, at least since February, when professional women’s basketball star Candace Wiggins, who retired from the WNBA last year after eight seasons in the league, told reporters that she was bullied and harassed during her career because she was not gay.
“Me being heterosexual and straight and being vocal in my identity as a straight woman was huge,” Wiggins said. “I would say 98 percent of the women in the WNBA are gay women. It was a conformist type of place. There was a whole different set of rules they [the other players] could apply.” She says it drove her out of the league and the game. The WNBA denied her allegations, and the story wasn’t around very long. Gays don’t bully, they ARE bullied! Then, this week, ThinkProgress reported that a former University of Southern California point guard, Camille LeNoir, alleged she was denied an assistant coaching job in the New Mexico State University athletic department because she had the “wrong” sexual orientation. She claims that she had a firm job offer when the school thought she was a lesbian, but when she announced that she no longer regarded herself as gay, the offer was rescinded. This week, a federal judge in California decided to allow her discrimination case to advance.
I don’t know whether the perceptions of either Wiggins or LeNoir are accurate, but I don’t doubt that the kind of bullying and prejudice they describe goes on. There have been similar accounts in other women’s sports, like tennis and golf. Yes, it appears that unlike the male side (with the exception of men’s figure skating), gay women dominate many if not all women’s sports. I will eschew writing something arch like, “Who would have suspected?” in favor of the more direct, “This should come as no surprise, but saying so will offend feminists, female athletes and lesbians anyway.”
One would think that when a historically oppressed and discriminated-against group gains power or perceives that it has power, it would behave toward others as it wishes it had been treated during all those years of being marginalized. Alas, the opposite is usually the case, and most of the time. In one of my worlds, professional theater, gay men dominate, and there are theaters that have the reputation of actively discriminating against straight actors. Hollywood, of course has become a workplace where being revealed as a conservative is to face virtual blacklisting. Give a minority power, and as often as not, what emerges are bullies and bigots.
The same is now being seen in academia. The University of Nebraska relieved Courtney Lawton, a graduate student instructor, from her teaching duties after she publicly flashed a middle finger to the president of the school’s Turning Point USA chapter, Katie Mullen, while she was recruiting on campus, and along with at least two professors, identified as Prof. Amanda Gailey and Prof. Julia Schleck, verbally harassed Mullen, calling her a Nazi among other epithets, until she was reduced to tears. Campus police arrived and affirmed her right to peacefully man the organization table, as she had been doing. The bullying by the faculty members continued, however, eventually caused Mullen to leave the event under police escort.
“Our expectations for civility were not met by the lecturer in her behavior,” the university said in a statement. Boy, I love these statements crafted to avoid saying what they have an obligation to say.
Many professors then joined students to protest the action against Lawton. English professor Fran Kaye argued that even though the incident took place on campus, involved a university organization, and involved a teacher bullying a student, Lawton was acting as a private citizen at the time. Right. The American college campus is becoming an environment where it is considered virtuous to harass conservatives, Trump supporters and any student who does not accept majority cant.
While this post was in draft last night, I found myself watching “In the Heat of The Night,” (1967) the Oscar winning drama featuring Sidney Poitier ( “They call me Mr. Tibbs!”) as an erudite African American cop from the Northeast who assists a Southern small town police chief (Rod Steiger, establishing the stereotype of the cracker cop for all time) in a murder investigation. Poitier is called a nigger, attacked, and generally treated by everyone in the town as a second-class human being. In the most famous scene, a wealthy and powerful citizen slaps Tibbs for daring to question him, and Tibbs slaps the white man right back. Later, the sheriff tells Tibbs that he can’t act like that in the town, and demands that he leave before he is killed. Seething with hate, Poitier shouts that given a little bit more time, “I can pull that fat cat down. I can bring him right off this hill!”
“Oh, boy…” says Steiger, who won an Academy Award for Best Actor in his role, slowly, almost smiling at the black man who has made it plain that he has utter contempt for the racist citizens and the police as well. “Man, you’re just like the rest of us, ain’t ya?”
Poitier’s expression as he realizes—shame, enlightenment, dawning humility— that he also has the capacity for bigotry is one of the great moments of eloquent acting in film history.