Roy Hibbert, Meet Bayli Silberstein

Bayli Silberstein is a hero. She fought and won a battle for human rights, a battle for equality.

Roy Hibbert is a professional basketball player whose hateful words fit right in with the opposition Bayli is fighting against.

Bayli wanted to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at her middle school in Lake County, Florida, to “confront bullying, educate the school community, and promote acceptance and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.” Maybe if the NBA had a GSA, Mr. Hibbert would have chosen his words more carefully.

The Lake County school board stonewalled and opposed Bayli for over a year; ignoring her request for a formal denial with their reasoning explained, shifting rules about the proper and improper designations of after school clubs, allowing or not allowing clubs for certain age levels, and, reminiscent of southern states closing schools rather than desegregate after the Brown decision, the Lake County school board considered a ban on all extracurricular clubs.

The ACLU started a petition and filed a lawsuit on Bayli’s behalf. Finally, on Thursday, May 30th, a U.S. District judge issued a final order that will allow the club to continue to meet and remain in formation.

On April 22nd, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law that could potentially allow Florida middle schools to ignore the federal Equal Access Act, which guarantees student’s rights to organize clubs in secondary schools.  It is entirely legal in Florida to fire someone or deny them access to housing or public accommodations because they are LGBTQ. Florida also has a constitutional amendment that excludes same-sex couples from marriage and prohibits same-sex couples from attaining any form of legal family status. 36 states have same-sex marriage bans through either laws or constitutional amendments or both. The Supreme Court will rule this month on two cases that could determine the fate of marriage equality at both the federal and state level.

This is the opposition Bayli and all those like her are up against. This is the culture that allows Roy Hibbert to believe it is perfectly ok to say and even to laugh about a homophobic phrase on national TV, a phrase in line with all the other taunts and vitriol that feeds the bully beast in schools and locker rooms throughout the country.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24, accounting for approximately 4,600 lives every year. Attempts by LGBTQ youth account for up to 30% of all completed suicides, and they are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide. A new report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs looks at the recent rise in anti-LGBTQ hate violence and found that there were 2,016 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence in 2012, and also 25 documented anti-LGBTQ homicides, the fourth highest yearly total ever recorded by the NCAVP.

After Jason Collins came out publicly in April, Commissioner of the NBA David Stern said he was “proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.” While Hibbert was fined 75k for his actions, Stern’s statement says nothing about bigotry and homophobia, instead grouping together as reason for the fine Hibbert’s hateful language with his vulgar language, as Hibbert also called the press “motherfuckers” that night.

The NHL recently announced a partnership with the You Can Play group, an organization “dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.” The NBA is still adjusting to what Dave Zirin called the AJC era (After Jason Collins),  and the adjustment will clearly be long and arduous. They need to be on the right side of history. Lives are literally at stake.

Bayli will soon start high school, but she leaves behind a middle school that will be a safer and more accepting place. Roy Hibbert will continue to make millions of dollars and be one the NBA’s best centers, but David Stern and the NBA has shamefully missed a chance to make the NBA a safer and more accepting place. We can all learn a great lesson from Bayli Silberstein.

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