Story and Photos by Devin Millington, August 2016 Issue.
As part of the WNBA’s 20th season, the league celebrated diversity, inclusion, and equality with its third annual Pride Night June 18 versus the Dallas Wings.
The WNBA took the lead by becoming the first professional sports league to invite and recognize the LGBT community at a game each June, which is nationally recognized at LGBT Pride Month.
Following the horrific events at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla., the Mercury announced a silent auction to benefit the OneOrlando Fund (oneorlando.org). The auction included authentic jerseys signed by Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, the opportunity to be part of the starting lineup announcements, lunch for two with basketball legend and Phoenix Mercury vice president Ann Meyers Drysdale and other one-of-a-kind items.
As a result of the silent auction, combined with the sale of rainbow bracelets, Mercury Pride shirts and dollar donations at all concession stands, the Mercury raised $14,000 for the OneOrlando Fund on Pride Night alone.
Additionally, the Mercury teamed up with the American Red Cross to host a blood drive on-site before the game.
The Mercury played their hearts out on Pride Night against the Wings, but lost in a triple over-time thriller. Although it was the first time Griner faced her ex-wife, Glory Johnson, on a WNBA court, the drama was kept to a minimum, with only one incident resulting in a technical foul for Johnson. Taurasi, Griner and Dupree fouled out and it appeared Dupree sustained an injury to her ankle late in the contest.
The Mercury may have lost the game, but they won where it really matters. Their consistent and compassionate efforts for social change, diversity, inclusion, and acceptance showed that love really does beat hate.
This year, the Mercury’s Pride Night half-time show included a Q&A session with Jason Collins, the first active player in NBA history to come out.
During the on-court interview with Meyers Drysdale, Collins stressed the importance of LGBTQ allies – the individuals who identify as straight and are “out” as LGBTQ supporters. Collins also emphasized that it is vitally important to respond to attacks against our community in a more positive and productive way.
Collins came out as gay in the cover story of the May 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated. And, after 13 seasons in the NBA, he announced his retirement from professional basketball Nov. 19, 2014. Collins last played with the Brooklyn Nets.
The X-Factor Perspective
Many fans believe Brittney Griner’s entrance into the league prompted the WNBA to create WNBA Pride Night. Kristen Powell, Mercury season ticket holder who resides in California and travels to Phoenix for all home games agrees, stating that Griner is the Mercury’s most vocal leader regarding LGBTQ issues.
“Brittney Griner has always been very open about who she is and open about what she’s been through, which is cool,” Powell said.
The Phoenix Mercury’s selection of Brittney Griner as the number one overall pick in the 2013 draft has made it possible for the organization to buck the conservative political climate in Arizona and embrace the LGBTQ community more openly and much more meaningfully. Griner’s efforts, supported by the Mercury, have changed minds, especially with the youth of both the LGBTQ and X-Factor communities.
Griner’s message – that being comfortable in your own skin is beautiful and that being a lesbian is not a threat – has championed anti-bullying campaigns, resulted in the introduction of her own BGBU app, earned her the role of grand marshal of the Phoenix Pride Parade in 2013 and landed her a number of PSA spots in support of various LGBTQ organizations.
Still, Powell pointed out, not all WNBA teams are equal in actively showing their pride.
“When you look at Twitter, only the Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury changed their icon to the rainbow. This is Pride Month and for only two teams in the league to change their icon; that’s insane to me.”
Echo goes 1-on-1 with the stars of Pride Night
Before the Phoenix Mercury took on the Dallas Wings in their annual Pride Night game June 18, Echo Magazine sat down with Dewanna Bonner, Noelle Quinn and Alex Harden to discuss WNBA Pride Night.
Echo: What about Pride Night is special for you?
Bonner: Not a certain event, but for them to have this special night, especially with what happened in Orlando says a lot right now.
Quinn: I’ve not participated in any events really. I’m just supporting my teammates and the cause. It’s great to unite on this night.
Harden: Well, it’s something we never did in college. It’s just something in the professional realm because of politics in college. I think, especially after Orlando, this is a big step in supporting humans, that’s what it’s about, supporting human rights. They have families, they have kids and they love just like we do.
Echo: Have any fans approached you to say what WNBA Pride means to them?
Bonner: Not really.
Quinn: Of course you hear fans talk about it all the time. As a league, we don’t discriminate. For the fans in general, it’s great for all of them to feel appreciated.
Echo: Do you believe the Phoenix Mercury has taken more of a leadership role in how they show their Pride?
Bonner: Oh yeah. [nodding head emphatically]
Echo: Let’s end with a fun question. What is your favorite LGBTQ friendly television show?
Quinn: I love “Modern Family.” It’s a great show. It’s very witty and also tackles real life issues. They have life lessons in that show and it’s very entertaining.
Bonner: Oh, I love “Modern Family.” I watched every single episode that ever came out. It’s one of my favorite shows, so I vote for “Modern Family.”
Harden: I’m binge watching “Orange is the New Black” right now, but I love “Modern Family” too. I think it opens people’s eyes to that, although the ideals are changing, it shows you that they’re human and are a part of normal society.