I started playing organized recreational league in 4th grade at the age of 9, but I have been bouncing a ball probably since I was 3 years old. You could always find me at the gym and around the game because my mom played in college. So for me, the talent is rooted in the genes, but I worked hard at it and had lots of fun.
I’ve been out since I was 18 years old. I felt it was time, I wanted to come out and I was tired of holding the information to myself. I told my mother on the phone in my college dorm, this must have been the toughest part of freshman year! Her reaction was not understanding or loving. I was told that what I just opened up to say was not true, that I did not like women and that I did not know what I was talking about. Yet, it felt great to get it off my chest and to start becoming my full self.
At that same age, I also came out to my team. I had other out teammates, so I felt comfortable and safe. It’s good to have people around that you can identify with and can relate to. I was blessed to have teammates that understood, did not care, or were gay themselves! Also, I had a team culture where being gay was not held against you in any way.
Nowadays, I’m very comfortable being out. I can’t control what others think and how they react. This is my true self and I don’t care what others think. The only supporter’s opinion that I cared about was my mother’s, which was my hardest critic, but now we are in a real good place!
Overall, I think all my professional teams were tolerant to me being gay. I believe women’s basketball is very tolerant in the United States as well. On the other hand, there are other countries that are not so tolerant. I was a pro in Portugal, Sweden, Spain, Romania, Puerto Rico, Australia and France. It was not more difficult to be out in these countries, but it was more difficult to feel comfortable because in many of these countries I did not see men or women freely holding hands or who were together out in public as much as I did here in the States (Texas). I know there are gay couples in Europe and many places, but it was the PDA (Public display of affection) I did not see.
I would absolutely be okay with having trans athletes in my team or the opposite team. In basketball, I have played with or against both men and women. To me it’s all about having a fun game and competition!
It’s very weird that a gay woman who plays basketball is sometimes seen as a cliché or stereotype. Because when I look at all other female sports, I see many gay athletes, and more and more are coming out in other sports. Basketball may be a sport that has the most visible out gay athletes, I’m not sure. But we can also talk about how coming out and being gay in general is much more accepted than it was 5-10-15-20 years ago. Also, women are more fluid when it comes to attraction, sex, and love. Now that it is a little more seen and accepted in society for a woman to have a girlfriend or wife, I think women are more open to the possibility.
I think the era I grew up in was good for me to come out. I only came out late at 18 because of the fear of my mother’s reaction. I would have loved some advice on how to tell my mother at a younger age. And some time in high school, I would have liked to hear that it was ok to be attracted to girls, that it’s a normal feeling and that I was not the only one. I felt alone in high school with that issue. I could have pulled some major cuties but was too shy and not confident with my sexuality! If I had to come out now again as that same kid I think it would be easier because I would be more confident in myself and not have the feeling that something was wrong with me.
Now, kids are coming out in middle school and have full on same-sex relationships in high school. I think things are getting better in the U.S. Lots of work has been done and good things have been accomplished. Being a part of the LGBTQ community, things are livable and you can enjoy a life with your partner here in the U.S. But there’s still a lot of equality to gain. For example, I think there is still some support, respect, and equality that needs to be gained for trans people in our community by society and by the country as a whole.
I am always excited to see and hear about international athletes that are out as well! If I can use their stories to help another person or youth athlete in any sport, I will!
I did not meet trans athletes that I know of during my pro career in Europe, but I hope that they will react well to trans people too. I would absolutely be okay with having trans athletes in my team or the opposite team. In basketball, I have played with or against both men and women. To me it’s all about having a fun game and competition! There is no reason for me to feel uncomfortable.
I have been coaching for 10 years and I have not yet experienced any discrimination because of my sexuality from any parents of kids that I coach. I am around many great parents whom I feel very safe being myself around and I believe they appreciate the work that I do for their children! However, I take it into account that it may happen in the future.
I am always careful because I am also a physical therapist. My work calls for body work and sometimes parts of the body are exposed like back, high thighs (hip flexors) and glutes for example. I always ask a parent to be there during my therapy sessions and I always tell the parents and child where I have to work before I go there and ask their permission. I never want to invite any false opportunity of a harassment complaint. I have heard of incidents with other colleagues and just don’t want that to destroy my reputation.
I was told that what I just opened up to say was not true, that I did not like women and that I did not know what I was talking about.
As a coach, I don’t act differently towards gay athletes or athletes whom I presume to be gay. They know I am gay and we can have an open dialogue about it. If they want to talk about an issue they maybe aren’t comfortable with to talk about with their parents, then I’m there. I am a role model for my athletes, gay or straight.
I didn’t really have role models I looked up to while I was in grade school that I knew were out athletes. Now that some of the athletes that I did follow have came out, I realize I actually did have role models and there were some of my favorite players. Female athletes like Diana Taurasi who just married Penny Taylor, Cappie Pondexter, and Seimone Augustus to name a few. And of course I think Ellen (Degeneres) is really cool, but who doesn’t?! I enjoy hearing about more and more gay professional athletes coming out and living their truth because it is inspiring and it is important to see. I was not a real fan of soccer, but a couple of years back I started to follow some of the out US Women Soccer players and now I am a big fan of the team because they are absolute rock stars and truly talented women! Very fun to watch! I am always excited to see and hear about international athletes that are out as well! Their experiences are interesting to me because the challenges in other countries may be different from in the states. If I can use their stories to help another person or youth athlete in any sport, I will!
To young LGBTQI athletes I would say: Take your time and don’t let anyone rush you into coming out. Come out because you want to and be proud of who you are. Let no one diminish your sexual orientation because they are uncomfortable. It is not your job to make others feel comfortable, it is only your job to do things that make you happy and to feel free as a person. Work to be the best athlete you can be. Let your game and talent speak for itself! BE YOU!
Follow Earnie’s journey on Instagram: @ehoopsperformance and @earniewilliams