Nigerian Women’s Soccer Coach to Team: No Lesbians Need Apply

| by Pat Griffin

The Women’s World Cup Soccer Tournament is beginning in Germany and our focus should be on the play on the field.

Unfortunately this article about the Nigerian women’s coach and her crusade to rid her team of lesbians calls attention to the nasty underbelly of homophobia in women’s sports. Based on her religious convictions, Coach Eucharia Uche feels entitled and compelled to root out the lesbians on the Nigerian team, even if they are identified only by rumor.

In South Africa, where national laws include protections for LGBT people, young men in rural townships still practice what has come to be called “corrective rape” on young women who are lesbians or are assumed to be because of their masculine gender expression. Perhaps the most egregious example of this brutal practice is the case of Eudy Simelane, captain of the South African women’s football team, who was beaten, raped and murdered because she was a lesbian. I wrote about this in a blog on May 12, 2010.

I think it is important to remind readers who might be thinking that this blatant discrimination is a problem only in African countries that you can change the location to the United States and the race of the coach to white and you can find several similar situations where coaches are discriminating against lesbian athletes based on their religious convictions.

You can make the case that much of the religious-based anti-LGBT sentiment in African countries stems from the teaching of white Evangelical Christian missionaries who export their anti-LGBT beliefs to Africa. The deadly influence of U.S. religious leaders in Uganda resulted in the proposed law that homosexuality should be punishable by death.

Perhaps the homophobia that women athletes in the United States experience is more subtle and less deadly than in many African countries, but it is still there. It keeps straight women silent. It costs lesbian coaches their jobs and it crushes the dreams of women athletes who are kicked off teams because a coach perceived them to be lesbian. Much of our version of homophobia in women’s sport is also based on anti-LGBT religious convictions.

The article about the Nigerian coach is just a reminder that, despite the progress and despite the many straight male athletes speaking up against LGBT discrimination lately, we still have lots of work to do. Sexism and homophobia in sport are a deadly combination that ruin the lives and dreams of many women athletes and coaches. We cannot read this story and just shake our heads in amazement at the blatant anti-LGBT sentiments expressed by a coach on another continent. These are world-wide issues that are just as damaging here in the good ole USA. Let’s not forget that.