I realize this title sounds likes the punch line from a bad joke. I mean, you know, I thought it was the lesbians who played softball while the gay men went to the Oscars. On Tuesday:
National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) clients and the law firm of K&L Gates LLP filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington challenging the discriminatory practices of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association (NAGAAA). The lawsuit alleges that NAGAAA violated Washington’s laws governing discrimination in public accommodations, and state consumer protections by implementing and enforcing a “two heterosexuals per team” cap during the 2008 Gay Softball World Series in Seattle, and also violated the plaintiff softball players’ rights by subjecting them to a series of invasive questions about their sexual orientation and private lives in front of more than 25 people, most of them strangers.
Now, first of all, I think this is a stupid rule. But, the NAGAAA is a private organization. And a private organization has should have the right to set its own criteria for membership. If it had wanted to allow only gay men to play on its teams, then the state should not prevent it from doing so.
But, I also agree with NCLR Staff Attorney Melanie Rowen who called the “inquisition” into players’ private lives, “outrageous.” It is particularly disgusting that a gay organization would not just countenance, but also conduct a public interrogation into individuals’ private lives.
(To be sure, given that this was a private organization questioning the players, any individual player could have walked out at any time. I wonder if any did.)
That said, as a matter of Washington State law, it appears NCLR is on the money. And I commend them for taking the case as a matter or principle. It shows they truly support non-discrimination laws, even when they limit the freedom of gay organizations. They have more integrity than many in our society.
(Still, I’m wondering why they filed this in a federal court.* I’ll inquire with an acquaintance who once worked at NCLR.)
With this lawsuit, we truly see how non-discrimination legislation threatens our freedom of association. If the Washington State law prevents a gay organization from limiting the number of straight players on its team, they could also prevent a gay organization — or lesbian association — from barring straight people.
UPDATE: I received this from Melanie Rowen, the lead attorney on the case:
In fact, it is common for federal courts to enforce state laws in cases where the parties are from states other than the state where the suit is filed. Our clients are in California and NAGAAA is also based outside of Washington, but the 2008 World Series took place in Seattle, so we filed in federal court there.