Mum banned from refereeing her son’s basketball game because she’s gay. Yes, really

Ayanna McKinney in a grey hoodie and woolly hat

A mum has been left in “disbelief” after she was banned from refereeing her son’s basketball game because she’s gay. 

Ayanna McKinney, from northern Kentucky, says the family had been involved in the Upward Sports programme for six weeks without an issue. 

The Upward programme is described as a church organisation that “promotes the discovery of Jesus through sport”.

McKinney, who lives with her wife and their six children, told local news site WCPO 9 News the pair paid for three of their children to take part in the sport after they saw it advertised at Stephens Elementary School. 

The couple said their 10-year-old son Mason and one of his sisters played basketball, while another daughter was a cheerleader.

In January, two church officials from the Florence Baptist Temple, which runs the programme, turned up at her home and told her that she could no longer volunteer as a referee because of her sexuality.

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The two men allegedly told her that because her sexuality goes against the laws of the church, and being a referee was considered a leadership position, she was no longer able to participate.

McKinney said the conversation took place in front of her and her wife’s children, including Mason. 

‘It’s an unimaginable experience’

“I was in disbelief,” she told the Cincinnati news station. “I don’t know how they were that comfortable to come to our house and just tell us that.”

The couple say they don’t know why their sexuality suddenly became an issue, claiming church officials knew from day one that they were married.

McKinney’s wife, Jesika, was left feeling humiliated. “We obviously see judgment or discrimination often within our world, but it’s an unimaginable experience when you are facing it personally,” she said.

“My biggest thing that I’m going for right now is to make sure [the] flyers in the school system don’t go home any more in children’s bags. 

“I don’t believe they should be advertising a programme like this that is not going to get catered to our community and the diverse backgrounds that we all have.

“This time it was aimed at sexual orientation,” Jesika said, “could the next victims be a divorced couple, or could they choose to discriminate against the colour of a person’s skin?”

Other coaches were outraged

The church’s decision was slammed by Mason’s basketball coach Michael Gilbert. 

Gilbert, whose fiancée is also the team’s assistant coach, told WCPO 9 News they spoke with church officials and were told that one of the cheerleading coaches raised concerns about the parents.

That prompted church leaders to have a meeting in which they decided to inform the women they could no longer volunteer, Gilbert said. 

“Upward is a Christian-based programme that doesn’t discriminate,” the coach of 20 years said. “To blindside them like that and come to their house is ridiculous.”

“It’s 2023, it’s time to move on. Lesbians are allowed to get married in the state, but they’re not allowed to participate in their kids’ activities. How does that make sense?”

The McKinneys have since pulled their children out of the programme because they “were not welcome as a family”. 

The coaches have since said they will hold a get-together in the future with the basketball team that has nothing to do with Upward or the church, so that Mason can see his friends again.