Sun to celebrate diversity, equality, inclusion at 'Pride Night'

Mohegan — Our greatest judgment passers often come from the comfort and privilege of the majority. Even the well-meaning don't always walk the proverbial mile in another's footwear, but remain plenty confident in their prattle, because let's face it:

Somewhere in their lives, they were given to understand they are better because the majority has a hard time tolerating anyone of a different persuasion.

And this is the underlying significance of Friday night's "Pride Night" at Mohegan Sun Arena, where the Connecticut Sun will celebrate diversity and equality during the game against Phoenix. This is a night to walk the walk with many people who for much of their lives have felt excluded because of who they are.

This is what the majority often fails to understand. Because they don't understand LGBTQ community members have felt excluded because of who they are for many, many years. They haven't been able to live their authentic lives, because the rule-makers take sides instead of understanding that this country works best when we include everyone of all colors, religions, ancestries and orientations who learn with, play with and learn about each other.

Kids and adults alike are going to see role models sprinkled throughout the arena tonight that will inspire authenticity. With the inherent message: It's OK. Join us. You belong.

Perhaps some of us, whose skin colors and orientations automatically place us in the majority, can't fathom any sense of not belonging. Of course we belong. This is America, dammit. Everyone belongs ... except to those who feel shunned because of who they are.

Tonight we are all ... us.

"What it celebrates more than anything is that we have differences," Sun general manager Amber Cox said. "We are all different types of people. We are of different races coming together to celebrate our team. We're all sitting next to each other. It's not anything political. It really just is about a celebration of community and making sure the community knows this is a safe space.

"Sports hasn't always been that for the LGBTQ community. I don't want anyone to feel like they can't walk in here and hold their partner's hand."

The WNBA has emerged as a national beacon for inclusion, flipping the script on mainstream whispering and snickering. The narrative, spoken or otherwise, couldn't get to basketball until we figured out who is and who isn't.

Now it's become: Who cares? But in the most productive way. Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, among many others, are out, hardly afraid of who they are. Bet they're envied by male counterparts in other sports who can't be themselves among all the macho-ness and testosterone.

Hi. I'm Diana Taurasi. The best player in the world. I'm a wife and a mom.

Hi. I'm Curt Miller. Coach of the Sun. I'm a good coach who is gay. Not the gay coach.

Have you any idea the power in that, particularly to kids who are discovering themselves?

"I've never been a person who has stood on a mountain and screamed who I love and who I am," Miller said. "The hardest part for me is that I didn't have a lot of sports role models. When I was about 25, I was finally comfortable with myself and quickly found a partner. We ended up together for 21 years and raised children.

"I always questioned whether I could advance in the coaching profession being a gay male. There weren't a lot of role models out there. For a long time, I wasn't visible. I never talked about it in the media. I realized I missed an opportunity for decades to be a better role model for someone like me that wanted to chase dreams and aspirations in athletics but didn't see those role models either."

And so Friday night, the Hartford Gay Men's Choir will perform the national anthem. Ada Vox, a Top 8 finalist on American Idol this past season, will perform at halftime. Vox is the first drag queen to advance to the Top 8 in any season of the competition. Postgame, fans will hear from a panel on LGBTQ issues with Miller, guard Courtney Williams, Mercury forward Brittney Griner and former NFL player Wade Davis.

Our country's current leadership makes progress hard to quantify. Communal agreement has been replaced by a million little bits of distractive noise, producing more moral outrage than moral courage. Still, our acceptance of the LGBTQ community has never been greater.

Because of nights like this.

Because of the courage and candor of Miller, Taurasi and many others.

"If there's a kid in the audience who may want to coach and may be afraid if they're out, look at Curt," Cox said. "He's living his best life, is who he is, a great coach. It inspires somebody to say, 'I'm OK with being who I am.'"

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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