Sun's Clarendon using her voice to help others in the LGBTQ community

Mohegan — Layshia Clarendon was in middle school when Jasmine, her older sister, was outed while playing basketball at Pepperdine University.

Jasmine immediately faced homophobia.

From her parents.

Layshia was gay, too, but didn’t dare tell them.

“That’s when I remember (first) hearing the words like ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian,’” Clarendon said. “It was like that's a bad thing. I knew that whatever she was that they were mad about, and that I was the same thing, too.”

The Connecticut Sun held Pride Night on Friday as part of their WNBA game with the Phoenix Mercury.

Clarendon, in her second season with Connecticut, was scheduled to be part of a panel that spoke about LGBTQ+ issues after the game and has been very open about her life story.

”I think a part of it, sharing my struggles, is so more people don't feel alone,” she said. ”There's someone else out there.”

• • •

Clarendon has felt like an outsider because of who she is, what she’s experienced, and her various worlds which have collided with one another.

She’s female.

She’s black.

She’s light-skinned.

She’s from an interracial family.

She’s gay.

She’s non-cisgender.

She’s Christian.

She’s been sexually assaulted.

That sexual assault, the bigotry that Clarendon has experienced ... all of it could have made her bitter, jaded, and mean. It didn’t ruin her, though. She’s happy. She’s engaging. She cares about people.

“All my experiences have shaped me, I think, to be more empathetic,” Clarendon said. “It gives you perspective. … So much of this journey was preparing me to have this voice.

“When I’m telling my story, that’s the most powerful thing that I have.”

• • •

Religion was never a thing in the Clarendon household until Jasmine was outed. Then it, and the Bible, became tools to label her bisexuality a sin. She and her father didn’t speak for months. The turmoil affected the whole family.

Layshia told Jasmine and Terry, their younger brother, that she was gay. She told some friends who were cool with it. But when it came to her parents, she had to keep it on the down-low.

Being a teenager is challenging enough. Clarendon was a teenager who was gay, hiding it from her parents, listening to them denounce homosexuality, and watching how the latter affected their relationship with Jasmine.

“I had basketball, a family that I was out to, and players around me,” Clarendon said. “So I think that helped me have a safety net of people I could talk to and share collective stories. ... That community helped me survive it not being OK (being gay) in my house. Because if you didn’t have it anywhere, I could see where you could flip your lid and really lose it.

“There’s a lot of people that experience, in a lot of different ways, how to survive in houses where it’s not okay. You don’t want to be cast out of your home as a kid. ... ‘If (my parents) find out, am I going to get kicked out? Or (will it lead to) the start of violence, any of those things?' There’s a just a level of survival, of don’t let them find out at any cost so that you can just be OK.”

Clarendon went to the University of California. She became known nationally during her senior year (2012-13) as the point guard with the handles and the mohawk while leading the Golden Bears to their first Final Four.

Clarendon came out to her mother her sophomore year. She told her father a year later.

“He was upset and he was angry,” Clarendon said about the conversation with her father. “It sucked. I was crying and all of that. But I was just like, ‘Dad, I’m the same person. (Do) you realize I’ve been this person my entire life? Nothing changed. I just told you (I’m gay).’ He didn’t want to hear that, and I was sad.”

Clarendon’s father was supposed to go to Hawaii to watch Layshia and Cal play in a Thanksgiving tournament. He didn’t.

“He ended up coming when we played Ohio State in December and then we just stuck to (talking) basketball,” Clarendon said. “Then it becomes the don’t ask, don’t tell thing for a while. … 'Let’s not deal with it right now.'

“By the following year (it was better). It was a lot quicker than he came to terms with my sister. That’s where it sucks being the first sibling because you kind of have to take the brunt of everything and then you hope your parents learn by the time it happens to another (sibling), and that they grow and adapt.”

• • •

Clarendon married Jessica Dolan in November, 2017. Dolan wore a wedding dress. Clarendon wore a snappy suit (oh, how she hated having to wear dresses to church as a kid).

Clarendon’s father walked Layshia down the aisle.

“I was bawling at my wedding because there’s so many emotions,” Clarendon said. “Of finally marrying the person you love and all of that. And the person who is walking you down the aisle who said that they would never do that, to see them grow and adapt and change and love you wholly, was a really big step. I’m proud with him how far he’s come. We’ve had conversations and apologies.

“I found a lot of healing in it. So now he’ll call me and ask me how Jess is doing. ... (He'll say) ‘I’m happy that you found someone you love and who supports you. You have a good partner.’ Your parents finally see that, wow, you’re happy, healthy and successful. That’s all they really wanted (for you).”

n.griffen@theday.com

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