Press Release by Vince Heald and Katie Woolway Phone: 858-453-9600
Judge’s Rulings Ended Plaintiffs’ Challenge to Softball Rule
SEATTLE, Washington — Organizers of the Gay Softball World Series (GSWS) have announced a settlement in the federal lawsuit that had questioned the legality of a rule requiring teams playing in the annual softball tournament for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to consist primarily of members of the LGBT community. The decision to settle came after a series of stinging blows to the case filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) on behalf of three men whose team was disqualified from the 2008 tournament for allegedly skirting the rule.
“We have been vindicated by the judge’s First Amendment rulings,” said Roy Melani, the Commissioner of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA), which hosts the GSWS. “This lawsuit threatened not only the purpose of our organization, but also its future. We fought hard to protect ourselves and our core identity and I am relieved this issue is finally behind us.”
NCLR filed the lawsuit in April 2010 in Federal Court after the Washington Human Rights Commission decided to pass on the case. Plaintiffs asserted various discrimination and privacy claims against NAGAAA, and asked the Court to bar NAGAAA from enforcing its rule in any future Gay Softball World Series.
However, a series of pre-trial rulings from U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour strongly favored the tournament and its First Amendment rights. On May 31, 2011, the judge dismissed plaintiffs’ claim seeking to change NAGAAA’s rule, and found that the First Amendment applies to NAGAAA’s mission. On November 14, 2011, the judge dismissed plaintiffs’ discrimination claims, ruling that “the First Amendment protects NAGAAA’s membership policy from Washington’s public-accommodation law.”
“It’s the Gay Softball World Series,” Melani argues. “It’s important we defend our right to maintain that identity. How else could we send our message that openly LGBT athletes can excel at team sports? We are a thriving and vibrant community. We compete. We socialize. We look after each other.”
Judge Coughenour agreed, finding that “it is reasonable that an organization seeking to limit participation to gay athletes would require members to express whether or not they are gay athletes.”
The three plaintiffs have now identified themselves as bisexual, but they did not do so during 2008 Protest Hearing or in their original complaints. “If all three players had just said they were bisexual at the time, the lawsuit would never have happened,” says Melani. Nevertheless, NAGAAA has clarified its written policies to confirm that bisexual and transgender players are full members of the LGBT community.
Plaintiffs’ remaining individual claims, which sought damages for alleged invasion of privacy and emotional distress, were set for trial in December, but the parties have now reached a settlement agreement resolving the lawsuit. As part of the settlement, NAGAAA has penned an open letter on its website (http://www.nagaaasoftball.org) explaining the lawsuit and the settlement terms.
“This is a complete win for us,” Melani said