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LGBT Pride Night at Sox Park Draws Boycott Threat, but Most Fans Supportive

By Casey Cora | July 31, 2014 8:39am
 Equality Illinois, a human rights group, is once again bringing LGBT fans to U.S. Cellular Field for "Out at the Sox," a pride night.
Equality Illinois, a human rights group, is once again bringing LGBT fans to U.S. Cellular Field for "Out at the Sox," a pride night.
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Equality Illinois

ARMOUR SQUARE — An upcoming event at U.S. Cellular Field encourages the team's LGBT fans to attend a White Sox game next month, but it's drawn some debate on the team's social media pages, with some fans saying they would boycott the game.

"Out at the Sox" takes place Aug. 16 with a preparty package at Crew Bar & Grill, 4804 N. Broadway, in Uptown followed by the Sox game against the Toronto Blue Jays at U.S. Cellular Field.

The event is a fundraiser for Equality Illinois, a group that pushes for equal treatment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the state.

"This is a reminder that LGBT people love baseball the same as everybody else, that it's not that big of a deal," said Christina Kahrl, a veteran Chicago sportswriter who sits on the board of directors for Equality Illinois. "There's LGBT people already in the park every night at all 81 home games."

Casey Cora discusses the White Sox involvement in LGBT issues over the years:

Although the event is not an official promotion of the team, Kahrl, who co-founded the online stats and scouting bible Baseball Prospectus, said the team's courting of LGBT fans is what "any smart baseball team is doing, and cultivating fans in any market they can find."

Still, the reaction to an announcement of the event on the team's Facebook page and Twitter account has generated hundreds of comments, including some from those critical of the event.

"No way will I take my grandkids to this game," one post reads. "Every true white sox fan should boycott this game." Reads another: "After seeing this ... I may jump the fence to a Cubs fan."

But many more comments praise the club for welcoming the LGBT crowd. 

"I will be wearing my White Sox hat and holding a rainbow flag in one hand and a beer in the other!! I'm so happy they're doing this! GO GO SOX," one post reads.

Another Tweet reads: "I think the night is great. If you're outraged and willing to jump ship based on this, you weren't a real fan anyway."

Declining to respond to the comments, Sox spokesman Lou Hernandez said there's "no appropriate response to that type of disrespectful and degrading commentary."

He said the team has hosted similar LGBT group outings since 2007, and paired up with Equality Illinois in 2013.

"We do certainly aggressively work to make the experience inviting to all groups. It's part of creating that inviting atmosphere," Hernandez said. "From a diversity standpoint, we work hard to be as inviting and diverse as possible."

But the Sox haven't courted gay fans for as long as the Cubs have.  The first "Out at Wrigley" pride night was in 2001.

The South Side squad and some of its players and coaches have drawn criticism in the past for perceived anti-gay comments and events.

The infamous Disco Demolition night in 1979, the fiery on-field fiasco engineered by radio host Steve Dahl and OK'd by the team's former owner Bill Veeck, was labeled by some critics as racist and homophobic for a perceived stance against gay culture and minorities.

Reflecting on the event's 35th anniversary earlier this month, ringleader Dahl wrote in Crain's that any criticism about homophobia is an unwarranted "cheap shot."

Dahl said the notorious night was "a bunch of disenfranchised 20-something rockers having some laughs at the expense of older brothers who had the capital and the clothing to hang with the trendy social elite. ... It was 'yes to Old Style and T-shirts' and 'no to choreography and three-piece suits," he wrote.

In 2006, former Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen was punished by Major League Baseball after calling a provocative columnist a "f------ f--," which led to public apologies from league commissioner Bud Selig.

Guillen later backed away from the gay slur, saying, "the word I used, I should have used something different ... I've apologized to the entire gay community," he told reporters.

Kahrl, who covered the team while Guillen was manager, backed up the volatile former coach, saying "Ozzie's never had a problem with me in his locker room. I'm out, trans, everyone knows who I am at the ballpark, and have been entirely sociable and friendly," she said.

Years later, second baseman Gordon Beckham caught heat after a jab at his friend — using his cleats, he scrawled [former teammate Chris] 'Getz is Gay' on the infield dirt — was seen from the upper decks and splashed across the sports pages.

Beckham apologized, and Sox vice president Kenny Williams reprimanded the then-24-year-old slugger, saying he should "apologize for making us less than what we stand for."

Still, the incident prompted backlash from fans, at least 2,000 of whom signed a petition asking the team to participate in the "It Gets Better" video campaign, geared toward LGBT teens facing bullying.

Although several pro sports teams — including the Cubs — made a video, the South Side club instead participated in a 2012 public service announcement against bullying, an issue Hernandez called "bigger than narrowing it down to just this one [LGBT] segment."

The team's charity arm also has sent grant money to the Howard Brown Health Center in Boystown, money that goes to pay for mental health programs for LGBT teens, Hernandez said.

"Out at the Sox" begins at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 16 with a preparty package at Crew Bar & Grill, 4804 N. Broadway. Tickets for the pregame party and admission to the ballgame are $45; game tickets cost $35.

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