Formerly Anti-Gay Sports Star Now Backs Equality
In 2007, Tim Hardaway, an NBA star who played with the Heat, responded to news of a fellow hoops star coming out as gay with vitriol, saying that he hated gays. Now, in a turnabout, Hardaway is supporting three El Paso city officials who face punitive action from anti-gay activists for seeking to restore domestic partnership benefits for same-sex families.
When John Amaeche emerged from the closet in 2007, Hardaway went on the radio to profess his hatred of gays.
"I hate gay people, so I let it be known," Hardaway said.
Continued Hardaway, "I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people." The basketball star added, "I’m homophobic. I don’t like it."
The athlete pointed to the close confines and intimate spaces of the team locker room and court of play, saying, "If you have 12 other ballplayers in your locker room that’s upset and can’t concentrate and always worried about him in the locker room or on the court or whatever, it’s going to be hard for your team mates to win and accept him as a team mate."
Indeed, the athlete felt so strongly about the matter than he suggested gays should not even exist. Said Hardaway, "It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States."
That was then.
In the time since, homophobic activists headed by anti-gay pastor Tom Brown got a measure before El Paso voters last Nov. 2 to deny domestic partner benefits for city workers. The measure passed, but city officials refused to allow the matter the die. For one thing, the measure was sparked by a mere handful of city employees being able to offer family benefits to same-sex partners, but the measure that repealed that benefit had a far wider impact that just gay and lesbian city employees, with over 200 people standing to lose their benefits.
"The city of El Paso endorses traditional family values by making health benefits available only to city employees and their legal spouse and dependent children," the ordinance passed by El Paso voters last Nov. 2 read.
U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo had put implementation of the ordinance on hold earlier this year during a court challenge, while the City Council deliberated putting a new ordinance before voters that would specifically address whether GLBT couples would be targeted for loss of benefits.
"Shall the City Charter be amended to provide health benefits to the gay, lesbian, transgender, and unmarried heterosexual partners of City employees?" the proposed ordinance was to have read.
But Montalvo resolved that challenge when he ruled on the case, which had questioned whether the ordinance was constitutional. The judge acknowledged that the ordinance passed by voters might have had implications that the voters had not considered.
"This is an example of how direct democracy can have unexpected consequences," the judge said. In his ruling, Montalvo noted that the ordinance "distinguishes between (city employees and their families) and everybody else," such as elected officials and retired people, who are not employed by the city.
The plight of heterosexual employees, some of them retired, that resulted from the measure seemingly did not bother the anti-gay activists.
"We’re very happy the voters’ will was upheld," pastor Brown said in the wake of Montalvo’s ruling. "We’ve always maintained that the traditional family ordinance was constitutional. Now it’s a federal judge who agrees with it."
But the council voted on June 14 to extend those benefits once again, prompting Brown to vow that he would seek the recall of two council members.
The measure to restore benefits was introduced to the city council by El Paso Mayor John Cook, who cast a tie-breaking vote when the city council split down the middle, with 4 votes in favor and 4 against. That made the mayor another target of the pastor’s wrath.
Two outgoing members of the city council, Beto O’Rourke and Rachel Quintana, sided with those who wanted to see the benefits restored. They, of course, won’t face the recall effort, but two other counselors, Susie Byrd and Steve Ortega, remain in office, and their votes to restore equitable benefits made them targets for the recall effort.
Enter Hardaway. In a dramatic change of heart, the retired basketball star accompanied Mayor Cook and the two beleaguered city council members at a press conference.
The El Paso Times reported on Aug. 19 that Hardaway’s change in attitude arose from taking a hard look at himself after his anti-gay sparked an outcry four years ago.
"I opened my eyes and went to counseling," Hardaway disclosed. "I would say grow up and catch up with the times," Hardaway added, going on to point out that GLBTs are part of societies "all around the world."
Hardaway drew parallels between the gay struggle for equality and the fight that Africans Americans mounted for their own civil rights, recalling how basketball coach Don Haskins (formerly Hardaway’s own coach) defied racist expectations in sports in 1966 by defeating an all-white opposition with his own team, which included five black players.
"A lot of people said, ’What is Don Haskins doing?’" Hardaway said. "But El Paso understood."
Gay sports site Outsports offered kudos for Hardaway’s public message of acceptance and support for GLBT equality.
"Hardaway is walking the walk by standing up to bigotry and discrimination," the Aug. 19 article read. "Bravo for him!"
"Brown’s group, El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values, has until Sept. 16 to gather 6,100 signatures to hold an election to oust Cook, and about 650 each to recall Byrd and Ortega," the El Paso Times article said. "Brown’s Tom Brown Ministries website lists five churches where people can sign petitions including his own, Word of Life Church."