Monday, December 26, 2011

The Buffalo Sabres, It Gets Better, and the LGBT Community

This is kind of crossing the streams so to speak on my varied interests, but relevant.  With the recent suicide of Buffalo teen Jamey Rodemeyer precipitated by sexual orientation inspired bullying, and the spread of the It Gets Better Campaign aimed at promoting acceptance for LGBT youth, I've been on the Buffalo Sabres (hockey) to produce an It Gets Better video following the path of eight Major League Baseball teams (Baltimore, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago (Cubs), Seattle, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia) and one NFL team (Seattle). 

There are a lot of really good reasons for the Sabres to get involved with the It Gets Better Campaign.  The city has a thriving gay culture, enough to be named as one of the most up and coming gay cities of 2011 in a contest sponsored by American Airlines.  The NHL was the last major American professional sports league to break the color barrier and is currently in line to be the third league to speak out in favor of LGBT acceptance.  The new ownership wants to create something unique and special in Buffalo, and being a trailblazer in the NHL and speaking out to an oft forgotten (and oft denigrated) group of sports fans is one great way to do that.  The timing is even better when you consider that New York State just legalized gay marriage (with Buffalo Senator Mark Grisanti being one of the key voices of support), and that Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke has already done a lot to support the LGBT community.  It would seem that what you're going to turn off in terms of conservative fans, you're more than going to make up for in enticing young fans and in fostering positive publicity for an issue that is only growing in size and scope.

The response by the Buffalo Sabres has been...underwhelming at best.  Earlier this week I sent an e-mail to the Sabres asking if they had any plans to produce an It Gets Better video.  The response:

Hi Alexander,
Thank you for your email and your interest in the Buffalo Sabres.  We are currently developing an anti-bullying video with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.  The video should be available to schools and the general public by the end of January.
Stay tuned for more information.

Um...okay then.  That does very little to answer my question because it doesn't address LGBT anything and doesn't go into detail about what the NCMEC does.  My response (sent today) outlines this a little more:

Do you have any more information on the video?  I do recall reading about it a few weeks previous.  The plan then was (I believe) to involve Derek Roy and the Mayor of Buffalo and was somewhat motivated by the suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer.  Will Jamey be mentioned in the video, and will bullying based on sexual orientation be at least mentioned in the video?  Or will it be watered down and very generic, (and in that case fairly insulting to Jamey and the other teens that have died)?  The Denver Broncos have come under similar fire for their quarterback advertising with a hate group affiliated organization, Focus on the Family, and their refusal to answer to critics for their implied anti-Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) sentiments. 

I'm not very familiar with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children or any connection to pro-Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered, or anti-LGBT groups.  I do know that NCMEC founder John Walsh has worked with the Fox Network on America's Most Wanted, and also gone on record to rebut anti-gay remarks made in reference to the Mark Foley Case.  Bit of a mixed bag there.

I feel like Buffalo is in a unique position to reach out to an oft forgotten (and oft denigrated) group of sports fans.  Buffalo not only has a thriving gay culture, but has been recently nominated by American Airlines as one of the top up and coming gay cities in the world.  With nearby Toronto and the extensive support that Brian Burke has given the gay community on behalf of his late son, and the state of New York's recent legalization of gay marriage (with Buffalo Senator Mark Grisanti being one of the key votes), there is a lot to be gained by the Sabres by not only joining the It Gets Better Campaign, but in reaching out to LGBT hockey fans within the city. 

I feel that the new ownership wants to foster a unique atmosphere in Buffalo and being trailblazers in the NHL in terms of LGBT acceptance is certainly one way to go.  Major League Baseball (8 teams) and the NFL (Seattle) have already beaten Buffalo and the NHL to the punch (just like they did in breaking the color barrier).  And it's clear that one day, someone in the NHL will come out in favor of LGBT acceptance.  Why not Buffalo?


Mini Pack Holder

In this day and age the few days of lagtime that accompany e-mail correspondences seems unnecessary so I took my questions to the Sabres Twitter account with a condensed version of the same letter.  Their response is as follows:
The problem is not specific to LGTB bullying, it affects all students. Therefore our messaging will be directed at everyone involved. 

If you're up on LGBT and sports related news, this is very similar to the Denver Broncos' response.  Of course the Sabres have the benefit of not having had one of their players advertise with a hate group affiliated organization, but I digress.

Let me be clear in saying that the Buffalo Sabres organization isn't wrong with that response, but it's startling desire to sidestep and mention of LGBT individuals at all is deeply troubling.  More troubling is the new ownership's references to "family," a word that has so often been used as a euphemism by supposed Christian organizations for LGBT intolerance and bigotry.  That the organization doesn't even want to answer questions directly would seem to be an indicator that it's more than willing to stand by while this kind of intolerance continues to be a blight on society.

I'm taking quite a few leaps there, but with so little to go on (at this point), I'm forced to try and fill in the many, many holes on my own.  Please don't disappoint me Sabres.

UPDATE - I have received a response from the Sabres.

Hi Alexander,
The death of Jamey Rodemeyer was the impetus behind our decision to develop anti-bullying messaging.  It is why we began discussions with NCMEC earlier this season when we learned they were working with area schools to help deal with the anti-bullying problem.  NCMEC provides multiple resources for the schools, administration, students and parents.  They are a national organization (with local chapters) that has done a significant amount of research and work on the program.  Through their experiences, they are helping us shape the message that we want to convey through our video, which we anticipate will be completed before the end of January. 
Your concerns about LGBT bullying are well-taken.  The messaging in our video will focus on prevention, understanding and acceptance of people’s differences and where to get help if you are a victim of bullying.  Therefore, LGBT bullying, as well as, Jamey’s story will be part of the discussion when finalizing the treatment for our video. Although, as I’m sure you know, bullying is not exclusive to LGBT.  It can impact any child of any background.
Again, we are still in the middle of this process and will release more information as soon as it becomes available.
Thank you for your input and concern.
Rich Jureller
Buffalo Sabres
Director of Community Relations

My response to that, which is where the conversation may die:

Thank you for your response.  It's good to see the Sabres take a positive step in advancing a cause that I think most of us can get behind, curbing the bullying that plagues our youth.  From what I've read on the NCMEC, they do a lot of good work, and John Walsh's reputation speaks for itself.  I look forward to seeing the completed video.

I'm happy with your answer; it would appear that the goals of the It Gets Better Project and the Sabres upcoming PSA overlap so much that distinguishing between the two is moot.  Even though the It Gets Better Project was started with LGBT bullying in mind it has grown to encompass all orientations and all forms of bullying which I think is only fair.

Speaking as a bisexual and transgendered Sabres fan, it would be nice to see the Sabres reach out to Buffalo's (significant) LGBT community, even partnering with Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs to do so.  I understand that the Sabres are worried about alienating their (ever shrinking minority of a) conservative fanbase with a topic that some deem to be controversial and irrelevant to sports, but it seems the growth and good publicity that would come out of more overt LGBT support would more than make up for it.  It sounds like exactly the kind of thing this new ownership would be able to get behind.

In any event, I thank you for your responses.

-Alexander S. Bauer

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