US: National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame to induct first class tomorrow

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The first US hall of fame to honour gay and lesbian sportspeople will be unveiled tomorrow, and inductees include tennis champions Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King.

Dave Pallone, who umpired the first night at Wrigley Field baseball ground will return to Chicago to be included in the inaugural class of the first of its kind National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.

Athletes featured in the hall of fame will include recently out NBA player Jason Collins,  British rugby star Ben Cohen, tennis legends Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Renee Richards, boxer Orlando Cruz, and former Los Angeles Dodgers player Glenn Burke.

“It is a tremendous honour and … I hope it gives young people and adults alike who happen to be LGBT and want to be in professional sports another example of why they should continue to strive for their dreams,” said Pallone.

Rick Garcia, a leading Illinois gay rights activist said he hoped the hall of fame would courage lesbian and gay sportspeople, particularly in their youths to “have a career in sports and excel in that career and still be honest about who they are.”

On Friday, the events will include a dinner to honour the inductees, and a ceremony at the Centre on Halsted. Saturday night will see a night at the baseball ground called Out at Wrigley, which organisers have dubbed the largest Gay Day at a major league sporting venue.

The executive director of the centre, Bill Gubrud said the decision to establish it was changing attitudes, and shifts towards acceptance which made organisers think it was the ideal time to create an institution honouring the contributions gay people have made in sport.

The centre also aims to highlight hardships faced by gay and lesbian people in sports because of their sexuality.

“This will help preserve history,” said Gubrud. “You are not going to know where to go if you don’t know where you’ve been and many in the gay community don’t know Glenn Burke.”

Gubrud went on to say that many straight allies who have “helped create safe environment for LGBTs to compete in sports at every level,” were going to be honoured in the centre.

He continued to note the institution’s placement in Chicago, as among other reasons, it is a popular gay tourist destination: “Chicago is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the United States.”

The physical hall of fame has not yet been selected, but organisers are working on choosing a venue.

Jason Collins in May spoke about his sexuality, confirming he is gay in an article in Sports Illustrated magazine. He said: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

A recent poll revealed that over two-thirds of Americans support Collins’ decision to come out as gay.

After coming out, the star was subject to a tirade of abuse on the social networking site Twitter, including a number of death threats.

Despite some abusive messages, Collins received thousands of messages of support, including from President Barack Obama, and First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, his teammates, coaches, the Commissioner of the NBA, and countless others.

At the end of June, tennis star Martina Navratilova, will join London Mayor Boris Johnson in taking place in a week-long schedule of events.