The OUT Foundation had the pleasure of exhibiting and advocating at RuPaul's DragCon NYC 2018, with all its glitz and glamour.
To say that I was over-stimulated would be the understatement of the century. The queens, the vendors, the fans, the energy - it was all just so electric!
One thing I keep coming back to while reminiscing on our weekend there was the air of acceptance - of love, of inclusion - that feeling was everywhere. Each morning as I walked through the doors of the Javits Center, it was like a big HUGE hug of "baby, you're welcome here and this is your home."
I was so touched by the people who stopped by our booth and by the hundreds of queens who entertained us all by doing pull-ups with us (by the way, over 1,000 pull-ups were done at DragCon...bet ya didn't see that coming, Ru!) .
But what stuck with me the most were the kids.
We had so many young kids come by with their parents...I'm talking 6 and 7 year olds, hand-in-hand with their parents, decked out in tutus and wigs and tights and FULL of love. I met a mom from Pennsylvania who got up at 5am to drive her children, Simon and Leah (sp), to come meet Ongina. Simon wore a rainbow wig and tutu and the joy I saw on his face was something I won’t soon forget.
This is why RuPaul's DragCon exists - for Simon and Leah - for all of us to feel accepted, loved and safe in each others presence.
Like Mama Ru says, "We're all born naked and the rest is drag."
This post was shared by Will Lanier, Executive Director of The OUT Foundation and RuPaul’s Drag Race stan. Follow Will @truebluewill on Instagram.
This story is about a gender-fluid child named Rain. While Rain is biologically female, Rain may wake up and feel more like a boy than a girl, and vice versa, any day of the week. In this article, at Rain’s request, I’ll use the pronoun “they/them” when talking about Rain. However, you’ll see that Rain’s parents still refer to them as “she.”
It's 8:05 am, and 13 year old Rain Renwick walks into their middle school classroom to start the school day the very same way as every other student. They greet their teacher, chat with friends, pull out their homework, settle into the day. Then, Rain does something different: They head to the front of the class where a question on the whiteboard reads: "What gender is Rain today?" There are two options: “male” or “female,” and Rain checks the box that represents how they’re feeling that morning.
Type “gender-fluid” into your Google search, and you’ll likely come across a few different definitions. Some will sound like medical jargon. Some will reduce it to the types of clothes you decide to put on your back. Some definitions aren’t clear at all. For Rain, being gender-fluid is best explained in metaphor:
“Imagine you had a radio with a nob. You can turn it up or turn it down. Sometimes the volume is really high, or really low. For me, sometimes I’m feeling more male than I am female. Sometimes I feel non-binary.” (Non-binary means you don’t feel particularly masculine or feminine, and you fall somewhere in-between.) If you’re not sure what you currently are, think about what feels right for you. Just try it in your head. If you’re worried about talking to your parents, then talk to your friends first. If they’re not supportive, they’re probably not your friends!”
Can 13 year olds run for office?
October 11, 2018 is the 30th anniversary of National Coming Out Day—a day to celebrate those in the LGBTQ+ community who have come out to self disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity, and those who have come out as our allies. It took me 23 years to muster up the courage to tell my parents I was gay. Rain came out as gender-fluid at just 12 years old, and switched their name from Riley prior to entering junior high, thinking it would be easier to start using their new name at a new school.
“I have a really great school that’s super accepting, and a really accepting family,” says Rain. I bounced ideas off my family and classmates. I told them I wasn’t sure what gender I am, and that I wanted to try being male. They accepted that.”
Rain is precocious, cheeky and has an intimidating level of intelligence. They and their equally bright younger sister, Taylor, max out their library cards on a weekly basis, carting home as many paperbacks as their tiny arms can carry, which is about 90 books a week. Their pages are immediately devoured so that Rain and Taylor can be prepared for robust family discussions around the dinner table.
“Ron and I are both avid readers,” says Winter Renwick, Rain’s mom. “Being able to dip into a book is like stepping into another world.”
“We’re nerds raising nerds,” adds Rain’s dad, Ron, a hint of pride in his voice.
Rain’s love of reading is what eventually led them to learn about gender-fluidity—a term that helped them articulate how they’d been feeling their whole life. Their parents got them a subscription to National Geographic for Christmas, and, serendipitously, the first issue that arrived at the Renwick household happened to be the magazine’s groundbreaking “Gender Revolution” issue, which came out in January 2017.
“Everything finally made sense,” Rain tells me.
Some will argue that we’re in the middle of a gender revolution. Gender is no longer confined to simply “male” and “female,” the anatomy you were born with, or how society expects you to act. The ways in which you can identify yourself today are seemingly endless. Refinery29 partnered with GLAAD, a prominent LGBTQ advocacy group, to put out a gender glossary earlier this year that has 85 terms and counting.
It can be difficult for dominant culture—those who live a heteronormative experience and worldview—to understand why we need all these terms. Often they complain that it’s too confusing, that they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing or of being offensive. I like to ask those people, “Can you remember a time when you had to establish yourself as straight, or come out as a woman or man?” I’m guessing that time hasn’t come yet.
Think about who you are: Do you see yourself represented in television commercials? In movies? Are there people like you in the pages of bestselling books? If you are someone that is gender non-conforming, non-binary, trans, gay or anything other than straight, the answer is probably no. Our culture inherently excludes those that don’t fit into digestible boxes. Those individuals become “Other.” And as a result, they’re marginalized, and made to feel like their lives are valued less than their so-called “normal” counterparts.
Is Rain asking too much of their family and peers to be recognized as gender-fluid? Or are they simply asserting themselves the way many of us do without second thought? I would argue, it’s the latter.
When people want to own their identity, their pronoun, we need to listen. It is not asking too much. That person is not whining, or demanding to be treated differently. They are demanding to be treated and recognized as equals in this world.
Judith Barnes, now retired, taught for over 20 years, and helped start the Discovery 2 Charter School in San Jose, California, where Rain is a student.
“It was a school that started with the idea of being progressive,” she says. “We wanted children to actually be able to think about what they’re interested in learning, and have an open environment so that they feel safe.”
The open-mindedness of the teachers trickles down to the students: Rain’s classmates were the ones who came up with the idea to put the box on the whiteboard.
“Can you imagine how empowering that is?” says Winter. “[The box] isn’t negative or a joke, it’s just, ‘Here’s Rain today.’ Being 12 or 13 years old is such a challenging time anyway, and then to be going through another situation that many don’t understand… it’s helped her, and it is who she is.”
Rain was the “new kid” at school. They were outspoken, bold, imaginative, and energetic. It took the other children some adjustment to get comfortable with them, but ultimately, they became Rain’s biggest supporters and advocates.
One time, during intermission on a class field trip to the theater, everyone got up to go to the bathroom. The girls lined up outside the women’s room, and Rain waited in line alone for the gender neutral bathroom. A woman walked by and asked Rain why they weren’t waiting in line with the rest of the girls. Rain gave their reason without missing a beat, and the woman continued on. After that, the rest of the girls got in line behind Rain for the gender neutral bathroom, so they didn’t have to stand alone.
“My goal as a teacher is to make sure my kids are safe, happy, and that they’re growing. The most important thing is to make sure they’re not in the same place they were in the beginning of the year,” says Barnes. “These children experience each other, learn their strengths and weaknesses, and learn to appreciate each other. I teach to see those moments.”
But Rain’s story is one of many, and not everyone is lucky to be part of a family, or community, that provides the same support.
Research has shown that LGBQ teens are more vulnerable to planning or committing suicide. Transgender teens were not included in that survey, but according to CNN, research shows that transgender youth may face a similarly high, if not higher, risk for suicide.
Imagine if every community was like Rain’s, and everyone experienced this kind of support and understanding.
People and places that give you a feeling of acceptance and community can be life-saving, no matter who you are or what your background is. Your biological family, your chosen family, the front porch of your neighbor’s house, your gym.
I found out about Ron and his family through The OUT Foundation/OUTWOD. Ron is really into CrossFit, as is Taylor, and when Taylor heard about an OUTWOD event prior to San Francisco Pride, she insisted that they participate, both to workout and to celebrate Pride. Taylor goes to CrossFit with Ron more than Rain does, but it’s easy to see that the sport and the CrossFit community have become very meaningful for their family.
“It’s such an open space. People see that you’re there, you’re doing the work, putting in the effort,” says Ron. “Taylor threw down at OUTWOD with people much older than her. It could have been really uncomfortable, but no one made it that way. People gave her space and, at the same time, challenged her.”
The Renwicks, the Discovery 2 Charter School, Ron’s CrossFit gym, and many others around the country are examples of what our world could potentially look like. They are pockets of hope, small bubbles of inclusivity that could potentially set the tone for our future.
“I am a straight, white male. I cannot imagine [what it would be like to come out] in my youth, Ron said, thoughtfully. “Rain [and their experience] gives me hope for how things can be.”
“Even if you’re secure, a bad day...can still affect you. That’s a motivator and a reminder for me,” says Winter. “As a parent, instead of saying, ‘They’re so young, they don’t know,’ maybe we need to remember that the platter of choices is wide open. The idea of limiting is more limiting than you can ever know.”
This story was shared by Alexandria Goodson, a two time Emmy winning producer & writer at Good Morning America. She learned about Rain and their family through Will Lanier, Executive Director of The OUT Foundation. Alex spoke with the Renwick family and Rain's teacher, Judith Barnes, extensively while putting this story together. Alex is passionate about LGBTQ issues, as well as fitness. She also loves her girlfriend Tommasina and pizza - almost equally.
Four years ago I heard my doctor say something that no human wants to hear, let alone a 28-year old, seemingly healthy, no-family history of disease..."You have cancer."
After a very blank stare and what seemed like an eternity of silence - my doctor followed up with "...so now we fix it."
Sparing you the ups and downs of surgeries and treatments, the depression and anxiety that comes with it all - I'll wrap up the entire experience with one, rather long, hyphenated word...life-changing.
Earlier this year, I was asked by the Polo Ralph Lauren Pink Pony Foundation to tell my story.
Launched in 2000, the Pink Pony Campaign is Ralph Lauren Corporation’s global initiative in the fight against cancer. Originally focused on breast cancer, the Pink Pony Campaign designated a pink version of the iconic Ralph Lauren Polo Pony as its symbol. Over time, the campaign has expanded its mission to reduce disparities in care across a wide range of cancers.
The reason I signed on to work with this incredible campaign - and the reason I fight for what I do at The OUT Foundation every single day - is to remind people "YOU are NOT alone!" Whoever you are and wherever you are - there are others just like you, who share your story, your angst, and your woes - we have lived your pain...and just like you, we have made it through.
Reach out. People are innately good. People want to help. To listen. To heal.
If you want to read more of the story, I chronicled it all on a blog in 2014.
This post was shared by Will Lanier, Executive Director of The OUT Foundation and cancer survivor. Follow Will @truebluewill on Instagram.
On September 15th, our friend Coach Alex Ray of Brave Fitness hosted a “Live OUT Loud” event in Annapolis, MD. We caught up with Alex recently and asked him to fill us in on how things went.
Why did you join Live OUT Loud?
Alex: I joined Live OUT Loud because I wanted to make an impact on the LGBTQ+ community and for the community. I love helping people through their health and wellness, and have been building my personal training business online for a year and a half now. I have always wanted to help the LGBTQ+ community, but didn't think I was ready or big enough yet to do anything significant. The OUT Foundation provided the backbone I needed to be able to run an event that not only raised money for our community, but also provided an opportunity to educate and grow connections with allies.
Would you encourage other trainers to do a Live OUT Loud event?
Alex: I would encourage any trainer to host a Live OUT Loud event because you'll get back ten fold what you put into it. Yeah, it is a lot of work throwing any kind of event, but the work you put in will affect the lives of many, many more people. It is worth every hour spent!
What was the best part of hosting the event?
Alex: My favorite moments from the event were right before the workout and right after the workout. Before we started, we talked about the importance of self-love, and self-care through fitness is just that. Afterwards, I got to share my journey and the significance of having so many supportive allies there, including my family. The impact of the event was far greater than I would have imagined. And I know it will continue to grow with each Live OUT Loud event.
What was the impact of the event?
Alex: We had about 30 people register and participate in the work out and we were able to raise about $2,000 to support The OUT Foundation. Everyone had so much fun! And they sure did Sweat For A Cause!
About The OUT Foundation
The OUT Foundation is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing the LGBTQ+ community the tools to thrive thru health and wellness.
What is Live OUT Loud?
The OUT Foundation's year-long fundraising campaign, Live OUT Loud, is a celebration of you, the LGBTQ community and its allies. We celebrate those who drive and inspire us. Together, we sweat, we move, we work and sweat for our cause.
Learn more here on our site or follow us on Instagram (@theoutfdn), #liveoutloud, #sweatforacause.
Interested in getting involved? Click here to learn more about Live OUT Loud.
An Interview with Meredith Root and Alex Parker
By: Jaime Filer
We all know women are powerful - Especially Crossfit women. Therefore it’s only fitting that two fiercely independent, strong, determined, ambitious women find each other, and pair up – in and out of the box. Even though their cross-border/country relationship started out unassumingly and quietly over Instagram, it’s grown its own powerful voice.
2018 was a big year for both Meredith Root and Alex Parker. They came blazing out of the West at Regionals (Meredith in 5th and Alex in 7th), thanks to an incredible coach whom they share. Interestingly enough, both of them have placed 30th as individual women in the Crossfit Games (Meredith in 2018 and Alex in 2015). With so many similarities in and out of the gym (they have listed Clean & Jerks within 5lbs of each other), it seems almost natural that these two personality types would attract. But what makes them solid is most important: Despite their respective successes and competing goals in the sport of Crossfit, both of them put their relationship on a pedestal.
For such young athletes, they’re both wise beyond their years. But you can judge that for yourself …
Jaime Filer: How fired up are both of you for the 2019 season?
Alex: I always love training, and the fact that there’s an opportunity to set hard goals like Regionals or the Games in the future. Now that the Games are over, there’s a fresh season, and it’s definitely motivating.
Meredith: The thought of 2019 makes me kind of tired * laughs * It’s going to be back to the drawing board, I think, as far as planning the next season. I’m sure training will be a little different, but I’m happy to take some time off before the next phase.
Jaime: What is it like to live together, have the same coach, train together; do essentially the same things every single day?
Alex: I’ve had my coach for 4 years, and Meredith became one of his clients about a year ago. It was all fine and dandy until she actually moved here; then I got possessive of him and my relationship with him, and the fact that we were competing against each other made me insecure. I eventually came around to it, and realized it was so beneficial to have the same coach. Besides Games training and Regionals prep, we only do maybe 1 or 2 workouts a week together because it just gets too intense when we go against each other, and we’re only at the gym maybe three times a week together.
My work was really demanding for a while, and all the training was getting in the way of the time we got to spend together. I’ve eased off that job quite a bit, so we can spend so much more time together, and train with her mom. It was harder when she first moved here, and I was working until 8 or 9pm.
Meredith: The transition from North Carolina to Edmonton, Alberta wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It was a really big move; that was a lot because I’ve never lived outside of NC. I also moved right at the beginning of winter, which is intense here! The move was challenging and difficult, and I had to settle into a new gym community too. I had to integrate myself into a new gym, which is so draining for me (because I’m normally really introverted). Once we got settled and moved, it was Open prep straight away, which was stressful because they’d made changes to our region (cutting the qualifying number from 20 down to 5).
Jaime: It’s interesting, Alex, that you bring up the jealousy/possessive aspect of training/being coached. At the Games, you posted a lot about how proud you were of Meredith and how incredible she is; but it was also tempered with a feeling of, “I wish I was up there”, “I wish I made it”. Meredith, did any of this take away from how you felt that week? Was it hard to train together or just be together leading up to the games knowing only one of you made it?
Meredith: I understand the feeling, as I’ve felt it before also. It’s really difficult to explain: You’re happy for this person because you love them, but also they’re doing what you love to do, and they’re getting experience that you wish you had. I get the envy and jealousy part. I experienced it last year when she was on the demo team. I have a twin sister who qualified for the Games on a team, and watched Alex do the demos, so I was experiencing all these feelings. I was sad and jealous, and it wasn’t until Wodapalooza this year when I competed and Alex had those feelings that I understood why. It’s been a conversation over the last six months that we talk about and struggle with.
Knowing that there’s the possibility of those feelings means that you have to be able to manage those feelings. Our relationship is on a pedestal for me. I want to go to the Games and enjoy that experience as much as possible, but also want to make sure that we’re okay at the end of it.
Jaime: How, where, when did you guys meet?
Alex: Back in 2016, we were both spectating at the Games, and Meredith came up to me at the vendor village and said, “I think your Instagram is awesome. I just wanted to tell you, and introduce myself.” I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Then I noticed that she was competing in the ‘Fittest Fan’ comp on the tennis stadium floor in a head-to-head competition. I watched her, and saw she won! We were following each other on Instagram for about a year and a half (she was married at the time to a man), and before 2017 Wodapalooza, she asked me if I was going, so we just start chatting again from there. We hung out a lot that weekend, and did long distance after that for about a year.
Meredith: That got expensive! One of us had to move, and I was doing remote coaching, so it was easier for me to go anywhere. She had to be here to complete her articling for her law career, so it was a no-brainer.
Jaime: When did each of you come out to your families, and subsequently, social media? Was there any hesitation?
Alex: I’ve pretty much known that I was gay for my whole life. I was dating guys throughout university and a little bit after because I was scared of what people would think. I started dating a girl in law school and kept it a complete secret from everyone. After we broke up, I dated someone who was a three-hour drive away. My parents started asking questions about why I was gone all the time, so I told my mom, and she kind of spread the word. She knew, but was waiting for me to tell her.
I wasn’t as out on social media until I started dating Meredith because I didn’t just want to post about being gay, I wanted to post about someone particular, and Meredith was that someone. I’ve not experienced any negative feedback about it from friends, family, or even strangers. I don’t even think twice about posting about her; I don’t think in terms of gay or not. She’s just my significant other.
Meredith: It was really a double whammy. I said to my family, “I’m going to be getting a divorce, and here’s why… “ That was an interesting time. They’re pretty progressive, and some had known for a bit. It was just a relief for them to know when they suspected something was up. I’m from the south, middle of the Bible Belt, so I wasn’t openly discriminated against, but it’s not really something you talk about. You have to come out softly – you don’t tell everybody. I feel much better about it since moving here, because it’s much more progressive.
Jaime: Did being such big names in Crossfit ever influence your decision (positively or negatively) to come out to social media?
Alex: It took me a while to be comfortable with posting sincere, “This is a special person to me …” type of posts until it was a for-sure thing with Meredith. Having more followers made me think about it a little more, but didn’t prevent me from posting. I think it just made me more aware.
Meredith: My following is still pretty new, and it came after (or as a result of) dating Alex. You always want to be careful with how you put yourself out there on social media. I’m not the type of person to plaster a relationship all over Instagram, whether it’s gay or straight, until I’m sure. And I think it’s like that for a lot of couples. I was never too hesitant about posting about our relationship.
Jaime: Do you, or how do you, think coming out on social media helps the sport, the LGBT community, and even other athletes?
Meredith: I think there are different levels or degrees to which you are an advocate of the LGBT community. I don’t put rainbow flags or anything all over my posts by any means, but Alex made a really good post a couple of months ago when the whole Russell Berger thing came out. That got tons of responses, and we both just received a lot of positive messages about it. I think if you put out thoughtful content, people will be more receptive to it, rather than just plastering stuff all over the place. I think we represent ourselves honestly. I don’t think I need to have a loud voice; I just want to have a voice. I don’t do anything that’s super active, but I have people message me that say it’s awesome to see a gay female athlete. There are so many athletes who are gay but don’t post about it, or date anybody openly. I don’t feel a responsibility to post about it, but if I want to post about us one day, then I will, and if I want to put a rainbow flag on it, I will.
Alex: I get a lot of messages from younger people with questions about our stories and how we came out. We get messages from people who are struggling or have struggled with coming out, and they’re appreciative of the fact that there are people who are out there and open to show that it’s okay. I definitely don’t feel a responsibility to be an advocate for the community, but if the opportunity presents itself, I’ll say something. I won’t do anything that isn’t sincere. It has to be something that is representative of exactly how I feel.
I was so unsure for a long time about coming out online, but I noticed Cassidy Lance was so open about it. I love it. If Cassidy is training with her wife, then she posts about her wife. If it’s Valentine’s Day, then she’ll throw something up about her, and I remember thinking, “That’s really cool. I hope one day I will have that.”
Jaime: What do you think about Greg Glassman’s announcement about the inclusion of Transgender athletes at the 2019 Games?
Meredith: Oh! I hadn’t heard that yet! It’s funny because someone messaged Alex and I the other day asking us how transgender athletes should be included and what we thought. It’s something that’s come up a couple of times in different sports, and it’s always a tricky scenario. So to hear that Crossft was being proactive is great. That puts Crossfit on a new level as far as addressing it. How it works out, we’ll see, but the fact that they’re willing to try it is awesome.
Alex: I hadn’t heard that either, but I’m excited. Truthfully, I don’t know enough about it to talk about the details of how it works. I am not ignorant to the issue, but I don’t know enough about the logistics. I do think it’s great that Crossfit is taking a step forward, because this is an issue that will become more and more popular.
Jamie: If you had one message or piece of advice to give athletes who may be nervous or scared to come out, what would it be?
Meredith: I would tell them that whatever fears they have about coming out, or being open about being gay, put them away. I think that people that are meant to be in your life will be in your life regardless. So if you’re worried about someone not accepting you for being who you are, or loving who you love, then they’re not mean to be in your life anyways. You only want people in your life who will accept you and love you no matter what.
Alex: I think if you’re scared, then it means you’ve obviously thought about doing it and what people might think. For me, I started with people I could trust; not even close friends necessarily, but someone who you know won’t judge you. You’ll feel a weight lifted off your shoulders just from being able to be open with one person. You’ll get more and more comfortable telling people. If you’re afraid of what certain people will think, then those people aren’t right for you. Be who you are, and let the chips fall where they may.
Hi, I'm Brad Nash. I'm a 30 year old homosexual, HIV+, recovering addict, and yes, a CrossFit trainer and athlete.
Oxymoron, right? I used to think I had every stereotypical taboo one could have, but these days I cherish every descriptive label I have placed on myself. In the blink of an eye the decade of my 20's flew by and I sit here typing this passage on myself and I realized that my Higher Power, Alcoholics Anonymous and CrossFit are the avenue's I use to let out the aggression's of my decisions and the platforms from which I am cohesively building a new platform to live from. I will direct my attention to CrossFit, for this is the reason I am writing this piece.
When I left college in 2010 (Go Gators!) I needed to find a physical activity that could drive my competitive spirit. I was freshly out of the closet, a college athlete and had no idea what I wanted to do for fitness. My sister at that time started this "thing" called CrossFit; quickly I was drinking the proverbial juice.
I joined Broward CrossFit in Dec 2010 which at the time was CrossFit Affliction. I quickly excelled; ironically Full Snatch became my favorite lift and Olympic Weightlifting became the first Certification I went out to receive. There was something about throwing almost twice my body weight up into the air and successfully catching it ass-to-grass while watching my heterosexual cohorts barely able to catch half the weight. I'm not saying this to boast, but I'm saying it to show how the sheer nature of CrossFit can make an individual feel extremely powerful, believe in themselves and do something that they probably never thought could be done.
If I get so lucky, I would love to hopefully share more of my story with the world, one day. CrossFit has remained a constant in my life over the last 8 years, and has kept me going strong through multiple times of turmoil in my life. Believe in yourselves, love yourselves and leave it all out on the floor when you workout. Thank you for taking the time to learn about me, it was an Honor to share with you all.
At the event, Greg Glassman, Chairman and Founder of CrossFit Inc., made a special announcement continuing his support of the sport’s inclusivity and presented a check for $10,000.00 to The OUT Foundation. This is a giant step for transgender athletes. Where CrossFit goes - others follow. We are proud to be a part of a community that steps up, shows the world what the right thing to do is, and follows up with that commitment.
The OUT Foundation is developing educational materials for our CrossFit community of athletes, coaches and affiliate owners to help deep dive into what it means to be a transgender person in fitness, how to be respectful of a transgender person at the gym and in the locker room, and generally how not to be accidentally offensive.
We expect these materials to be complete by October 2018, with online webinars, in person Q+A sessions, and more to be offered as we seek to make ALL people feel welcome in this sport that we love.
by Hayden-William Courtland, Ph.D., New York, NY, @scienceforfitness, CCFT/CF-L3, and CrossFitter since 2009.
On June 6th, 2018 Russell Berger, Chief Knowledge Officer of CrossFit, Inc. posted on his personal Twitter account congratulatory remarks to the owners of CrossFit Infiltrate for canceling an Indy Pride [LQBTQ+] workout organized by their coaches and members. The cancellation was based on the owners’ religious beliefs toward homosexuality. In his original tweet Berger stated the owners’ action was praise-worthy as he too felt celebrating “pride” was a sin.
What followed was outrage from many people with ties to the CrossFit community. In a matter of hours Berger was put on unpaid leave while CrossFit, Inc. investigated, and by the end of the day his employment was terminated. The vast majority of people I know felt this was the right course of action for CrossFit, Inc. However, some social media posts and commentaries did not agree with this action. Individuals with these viewpoints generally had one of three rebuttals to Berger’s swift termination and I have given my perspective on each of them below.
1. CrossFit, Inc. should stay out of politics and just focus on fitness.
Those who ask for this approach fail to realize that when Greg Glassman founded CrossFit, it was as much about fitness as it was about community. Over the years this has changed, but only insofar as CrossFit is now even more about fitness and community. For example, on numerous occasions, when the livelihood of an affiliate was threatened (false publicity, natural disaster, etc.), CrossFit, Inc. stepped in to help. Similarly, CrossFit has extended into politics because politics impact public understanding of health science. As an example, Glassman appeared before the RI state senate to discuss the soda industry’s “undue influence on health science.” Some people may not like this, but nothing exists in a vacuum; everything is connected. Given that CrossFit was built around a sense of community, how could we possibly expect them to turn a blind eye on community advocacy and politics?
2. Early termination leaves no room to educate or build a bridge.
As someone who spent the majority of my life performing research and teaching in academia, I can attest that education is a great and wonderful process. When given the opportunity, I try to educate those who are confused or misinformed. But in order to educate, the educator and individual being educated must be on common ground. They must be using a similar framework with similar tools, a similar system of analysis if you will. For someone like me, the system of analysis would be using components of the scientific method (logic, data collection, reproducibility, etc.). As an example, the fact that homosexuality is common among many non-human animal species across our recorded scientific history, leads me to conclude homosexuality is a natural part of life. It is from these observations (which are separate from personal opinion), that I build my belief system to include the notion that there are no amoral underpinnings to homosexuality. For someone like Berger, the framework is not built around independent empirical evidence, but a series of human records (the Bible) written by numerous individuals well before the dawn of the modern scientific method.
Obviously, I feel my approach better reveals the truth, but to play devil’s advocate (as a true scientist would), let’s say my approach is wrong. Either way, the bridge breaks down. If people’s beliefs are constructed through different systems of thought, attempts to educate will fail. Facebook comment threads are filled with flame wars from these kinds of impasses and I argue that far too much divisiveness and anger is created when people with different frameworks of thought try to “educate” each other.
In my mind, the abovementioned points present reason enough to forgo the education of someone with a different framework of thought, but another reason is to send a clear message that the greater organization does not espouse or condone a given mentality, and that the speaker in question was not speaking on behalf of the organization’s values. Why is this important? Well, if you spend time trying to educate, what message does that send? As noted above, the CEO of a company is highly unlikely to talk the person out of their beliefs and in the meantime all LGBTQ members of the CrossFit community are left to wonder “was retaining this person, who’s unlikely to be swayed, more important than letting hundreds of thousands of members know that their humanity is valued, celebrated, and embraced and that the CrossFit philosophy of support and community is fully extended and inclusive of them?” I would argue that CrossFit, Inc. felt the risk was not worth it and therefore acted the way they did and as quickly as they did.
So, for one-on-one education, when there is common ground, we should all be 100% there for it, but when the common ground is not there or when someone is a leader of an organization with a bully pulpit (a highly visible messenger), education is not an effective or appropriate response. Indeed, when the stakes involve human dignity and the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the risks are often far too high.
3. This is America and people shouldn’t lose their jobs because of their personal beliefs – if they do, then they are the real victims and nobody truly wins.
The reality is, you can lose your job. The first amendment protects us from the government infringing upon our right to express ourselves. This does not mean we are free from consequences when serving as a spokesperson of our employer or making statements of opinions that run counter to those of our employer. By doing do, you have failed to do your job and the employer may act accordingly. You can still share those opinions, but no one is obliged keep you on payroll when you’ve gone “off-brand.”
The legality of free speech aside, let’s consider why terminating someone’s employment in this situation might be an appropriate course of action. To do this, you really have to take a step outside your own life. Perhaps the LGBTQ+ members of CrossFit Infiltrate found a family in CrossFit. Perhaps they found acceptance of who they truly are. Perhaps this environment was enabling them to come out of the closet and escape the clutches of suicidal depression. And then a high-level CrossFit representative encourages shutting down a pride event because it is amoral. Consider the potential emotional distress such an action could cause those LGBTQ+ members, as their human dignity and right to exist are ripped apart. These are the real victims. The stakes are incredibly high here if you view this type of action as an attack on human rights (as myself and many others do). I believe this is why CrossFit, Inc. acted as swiftly and decisively as they did – to affirm the humanity of their LGBTQ+ community.
Each of us has to decide what role we want and need to play in the fight for human rights. The more reach we have, the greater power we have to affect change, but also the more responsibility we have towards making the arc of history bend towards social justice and equity for all. Therefore, how a large corporation like CrossFit, Inc. acts will be different from how an individual acts within the scope of their influence. This is a good thing and this many-sided approach is how we will one day win.
Written with contributions from: Kevin Croke
The views expressed in this opinion piece are solely those of the author and do not represent those of CrossFit, Inc., OUTWOD or The OUT Foundation.
by Tim Boyer, Columbus, OH, @TimDanBoyer, CrossFitter since 2013
Does anyone really "win" when someone loses their job?
I know there are plenty who would say “yes,” but I challenge you to reflect: What does it accomplish? Did this person learn a lesson about the underlying problem? Or did they learn to just keep their mouth shut unless around like-minded people? Perhaps I'm too idealistic, but hear me out.
It's very easy to get angry and infuriated when someone uses their public pulpit to spread a negative message and most of time it requires a response. (The exception being trolls.) But it's the response that dictates what happens after. The LGBTQ community feels the need to fight and fight hard, especially when that message appears rooted in beliefs that won't budge.
But to fight every fight with the same unrelenting, fiery anger is misguided. We must always have passion but we do not further our cause by trying to fire everyone that says something negative. When along that path do we try to get them to understand the implication of their words? When do we try to build a bridge instead of building a higher wall? Why is it always us against them?
To toss those aside so easily only reinforces dissenting opinions that we are an enemy. With us or against us with no inbetween. There are plenty of well-intentioned people out there that say the wrong thing. There are plenty out there that hold firm in what they say but can't really begin to understand the impact of their words. The flame war leaves only scorched earth. Nobody learns. In fact, the persons on both ends of the fire only get pushed deeper into the recesses of their stance, they come no closer to the middle.
Harvey Milk was known for encouraging LGBTQ people to come out and increase visibility and to foster compassion from those who don't understand. I think more attempts to respond in a more measured way, to try and bridge a gap, than simply calling for a termination right away will pave the way for more progress. Engage to promote understanding, not to attack a dissenting view. I worry that by calling for termination so quickly (generally speaking) only presents that person as a victim with those whose views align with them and only increases the tension. Enduring change doesn’t happen with just a pink slip. Neither side should be treated like a doormat, no matter how badly they need to be checked.
It's all too easy to push away those who have a dissenting view. Sometimes opposing views are irreconcilable. But sometimes it's possible to agree to disagree. Sometimes it's possible to come to a mutual understanding through conversation and understanding another perspective in order to help them understand yours. Sometimes you can still interact with someone of dissenting views when you establish a mutual respect. Sometimes you can further the cause without the "gay wrath." But how will you know if you don't try?
Written with contributions from:
CrossFit is meant to be a community that welcomes and empowers all people. LGBTQ CrossFit athletes represent a significant percentage of the CrossFit population; to deny their existence by allowing Russell Burger to continue on staff without a formal apology to the entire community is abhorrent. As a competitive sport and fitness regimen designed to be universal, scalable and open to anyone willing to join in the camaraderie, CrossFit HQ should make it clear that discrimination and bigotry have no place in CrossFit.
During Pride Month, we should be celebrating and recognizing the influence LGBTQ people have had in sport and reflecting on progress — not regressing to hateful language. We hope for a formal and substantial apology from CrossFit HQ immediately.
Please contact Will Lanier at firstname.lastname@example.org or Anne Lieberman at email@example.com for comment.
UPDATE: Russell Burger has been placed on unpaid leave pending review.
UPDATE: Russell Burger has been terminated.