Chicago, IL —
For Bill Gubrud, best known as the founder and driving force behind Out at Wrigley, which is set for Sat., Aug. 3 this year, sports and the gay community have an important history and relationship. A Chicagoan and diehard Cubs fan, the young, gay Gubrud was fortunate to discover that living in Lakeview could cater to both his baseball fandom and burgeoning gay identity.
"My dream as a kid was to always live down here just to be by the Cubs, then when I got older I realized 'there's a gay neighborhood here -- wow thats even better,'" Gubrud, who serves as both executive director and board chair, told ChicagoPride.com. "So I've lived here for 14 years in this neighborhood and it's been exciting and I wouldn't change it for the world. I love the fact that I'm immersed in the gay community and right by the Cubs as well -- it's a win-win situation for me."Even as the founder of the nation's largest annual sporting event, an active sports fan and participant in the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association, where he coaches and plays first base in CMSA's softball league, Gubrud still wanted to do more to promote the bond between athletics and the LGBT community -- no easy feat in an industry known for homophobia both in and out of the locker room.With the help of fellow Out at Wrigley committee member Jackie Weinberg, Gubrud decided to put into motion a plan he says he's pondered since the first Out at Wrigley over a decade ago when the Cubs became the first sports team to advertise in a gay publication. While individual cities or gay sports leagues all have their own halls of fame, Gubrud wants his newly launched National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame, based here in Chicago, to help give pride and honor to a nation of LGBT sports lovers and athletes, especially youth.Their three-fold mission focuses on preserving and honoring the past as well as working for a better future."The National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame's mission is to recognize both individuals and organizations whose achievements and efforts have enhanced sports and athletics for the LGBT community," Gubrud said. "In addition, the Hall of Fame will preserve the history of LGBT individuals who have impacted professional and amateur sports and provide outreach and education to the sporting world so that LGBT youth all across the nation feel welcome and safe to participate in any and all athletic-related activities."The first order of business was determining the inaugural class of Hall of Famers, who will be inducted in a ceremony on Fri., Aug. 2 at Center on Halsted. Candidates were submitted by both the Hall of Fame's board as well as the public with the board narrowing the choices down (and in the future the current Hall of Famers will vote on the final list of inductees).According to Gubrud, this inaugural class of 26 will be the largest. In addition to honoring gay athletes, both active and retired, alive and deceased, the inductees also include organizations, teams, activists, sports journalists and three straight allies: English rugby player and anti-bullying advocate Ben Cohen, recent Super Bowl champion and outspoken marriage equality advocate Brendon Ayanbadejo and his supporter and fellow gay rights ally, NFL player Chris Kluwe.The list includes well-known names like Olympic gold medalist diver Greg Louganis, Patty Sheehan, the first out female pro golfer, tennis champions Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Renee Richards, out Olympic figure-skater Johnny Weir and basketball player Jason Collins, who recently made history as the first active athlete in one of the four major sports to come out to the media as gay. The Hall of Fame inductees also include "bleacher preacher" and gay rights activist Jerry Pritikin, the Chicago Cubs, Outsports.com, the International Gay Rodeo Association and, posthumously, Gay Games founder Dr. Tom Waddell and Chuck Dima, known as the Godfather of gay softball."When you watched major league baseball prior to Jackie Robinson, if you were an African American youth you had nobody to look up to," Gubrud said when explaining the importance of these nominees. "So it's like, if you're an LGBT youth, you want to identify with somebody and you want to have a hero that maybe identifies just like you to look up to."Several notable inductees, including representatives from the aforementioned organizations, will be in attendance for the August 2 ceremony. They include Dave Pallone, who was fired from the MLB in the 80s for being the the first and only major sporting official who is gay, transgendered sports writer Christina Kahrl and Andrew Goldstein, the first out lacrosse player who ESPN rated as one of the best players in the game. Attendees will also have the chance to meet David Kopay, the former NFL running back who, in the 70s, became the first professional athlete to announce he was gay and Orlando Cruz, the first openly gay boxer and the first to go for a title fight this October."I really want people to embrace him because that title fight in October is going be the first time [an openly gay boxer has competed] ever," Gubrud said of Cruz, who is honored to be included among the list of notable inductees. "That should be the biggest news in our gay community -- to me that's gigantic."For Gubrud, the importance of knowing the history of gays in sports is about instilling a sense of pride and identification amongst LGBT youth, recognizing and growing the gay sports fanbase and honoring a sometimes ignored legacy of players fighting to participate in an industry that they love, but does not always show love back.One struggle he especially wants to highlight is that of former MLB player Glenn Burke, who died from AIDS-related causes in 1995 and was actually the first inductee voted into the Hall of Fame. While Jason Collins is hailed as the first professional player to come out to the media whilst active, Burke came out to both his teammates and his managers, though not the media, when he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 70s. While his managers did not support him, notoriously throwing around words like "faggot" to reference him, Burke was embraced and loved by his fellow teammates."He actually played alongside people who knew he was gay and didn't care and that proves that an out athlete can play on a team sport," Gubrud said. "People in our community and outside our community need to know this.""My tag line that I've been using for myself is 'you're not going to be able to know where you're going unless you know where you've come from' and the fact is, in sports and in our community as well, how can we forge forward if we don't know where we've already been and what all these things that people have put through?" he asked.After clearing the initial hurdle of the inaugural inductees, the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame will focus on creating a program that reaches out to school and park districts as well as sports organizations, whether that means pro, amateur, little league, high school or college, to promote a safe environment in which LGBT athletes can participate."We want to help them, if they will accept our help, to say 'listen these are the things that need to be done to help [LGBT athletes] achieve their goal of playing sports without any repercussions about who they are," Gubrud said. "You know as well as I do, if you're not comfortable in your job or in what you're doing, your job is going to suffer -- a lot of athletes that had to play inside the closet sadly could not perform the way they should have or wanted to perform. Now its up to us as a community to say 'hey we support these people who want to play as who they are and be themselves.'"The Center on Halsted has generously donated wall space within the Center as a temporary home, but Gubrud envisions a future in which the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame has it's own building -- a destination point to visit and see artifacts donated by the inductees, historical pictures and all the rest one would expect from a mainstream Hall of Fame. To that effect, they will be launching a fundraising campaign following the Aug. 2 induction.This is truly a historic moment in both the sporting and LGBT communities. Queer sports fans won't want to miss the chance to mix and mingle with this year's famous inductees and celebrate the achievements and advancements of sports and the LGBT community. The induction ceremony on Fri., Aug. 2 begins with a VIP reception at 5 p.m. and a general reception at 6, both with included food and drink, with the ceremony starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are available for $50 VIP or $25 general admission at the Hall of Fame's website www.gayandlesbiansports.com.Gubrud is also offering a deal to make it a sports-filled weekend: if you buy a Budweiser Patio Deck ticket to see the Cubs take on the Dodgers at Out at Wrigley the following day, Sat., Aug. 3, you will receive a free ticket to the induction ceremony. That's two days of open bar in a row -- how can you resist? Tickets for Out at Wrigley are available through www.outatwrigley.com.Here's a full list of this year's inductees: Gay Games, Outsports.com, Chicago Cubs, International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), Anheuser Busch, Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Ben Cohen, Dave Pallone, Justin Fashanu, LZ Granderson, Christina Kahrl, Dr. Tom Waddell, Chuck Dima, Jerry Pritikin, Dave Kopay, Glenn Burke, Renee Richards, Billie, Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Greg Louganis, Patty Sheehan, Andrew Goldstein, Jason Collins, Orlando Cruz and Johnny Weir.