Jaelene Hinkle has once again received a call-up to the US women’s national team after a long absence, first brought about when she declined a spot on a June 2017 roster because she felt she could not wear a jersey with a rainbow number in support of LGBTQ Pride Month.
It really seemed her national team career was over, but Jill Ellis and US Soccer have once again asked Hinkle to join the roster, this time ahead of the Tournament of Nations. The fullback pool is currently running thin with Kelley O’Hara injured, Casey Short just coming back from injury, and Taylor Smith out of contention for the time being. Hinkle has undoubtedly been one of the best left backs in the league, becoming a key part of the North Carolina Courage’s starting XI.
But Hinkle is also someone who has very publicly professed homophobic views, so it should be little wonder that some USWNT fans are upset about the decision to invite her back to the team. A known homophobe is playing for a team that just last month proudly touted its support for the LGBTQ community and features an openly gay player and an openly gay coach. What now, if you’re a queer USWNT fan?
The first thing to do here is to allow that different people will have different reactions. Some LGBTQ people may be fine with this, and some may not. The queer community is not a monolith, and reactions may range from a shrug, to a “it won’t stop me from enjoying a game” to a full-on boycott.
But for the people who are hurt, let’s understand why: whatever their actual reason for calling Hinkle in again, USSF is signaling that they care more about winning than respecting the humanity of their fans - and its own players and staff who are LGBTQ. They needed a left back, so they asked for a left back regardless of her hurtful views and actions. And yes, they are hurtful.
I don’t know how many times or in how many different ways I have to tell you that publicly expressing your views that you cannot morally support LGBTQ people is not a “personal belief” that “doesn’t hurt anyone.” Homophobia has real consequences for real people, sometimes at the cost of their lives. According to The Trevor Project:
- LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth
- LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth
- In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25
- LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection
Jaelene Hinkle chose to go on The 700 Club during Pride Month and tell as many people as possible that she couldn’t wear a rainbow number on her jersey. If she had kept it to herself and just quietly gone about her life and career, that certainly would have been just a personal belief that hurt no one. But she chose to testify on a nationwide show hosted by notorious homophobic and racist bigot Pat Robertson. Her message has gone out to and affirmed the beliefs of others who don’t believe in supporting the LGBTQ community.
US Soccer’s mission is to build the sport of soccer in the United States of America at every level. Perhaps for some people, that means the national teams must do whatever it takes to win, and if Hinkle helps the team win, then she helps USSF accomplish its goals. (Note: the Pride Month rainbow numbers seem like they’re here to stay, so should a national team consider someone who will refuse to play for them a full month out of every year?) And for whom is USSF winning, and why?
For LGBTQ fans, many of whom have experienced the rejection of their families, their friends, and their communities, they see that prejudice doesn’t matter to US Soccer. The federation will wear a rainbow band on one arm and use the other to beckon a homophobe into the organization. It’s not a “both sides” situation - one side wants to stop being marginalized and live in a society that allows them the same rights and opportunities as everyone else, and the other side believes they can and should deny this. One group wants to exist freely, and the other group doesn’t want them to be able to do this. That is what the rainbow jersey number signifies - support for the LGBTQ community to be able to live happy, fulfilling lives free from discrimination.
I can’t speak for anyone in the organization or in the USWNT locker room. Plenty of people have homophobic coworkers; they say good morning, do their jobs, say good night, and leave. That doesn’t make the situation fine. That makes it something to tolerate. If anyone who disagrees with Hinkle can work with her, more power to them. The workplace belongs to them too.
And legally, US Soccer may not be in a position to just drop Hinkle over her sincerely held religious belief unless accommodating her belief would be unreasonably difficult or expensive for the federation (see above about refusing to play one month out of the year). If everyone can more or less get along and the team’s performance isn’t suffering, well. The situation is what it is.
For fans, though, there should be understanding if they feel anger or rejection or sadness. Soccer should be for everyone and being asked to cheer for someone who has publicly demeaned your identity can make people feel unwelcome. Jaelene Hinkle can have her beliefs, but so can fans. They can believe, believe that, believe that US Soccer’s actions are hurtful and dismissive and a signal that people with similar discriminatory beliefs as Hinkle are welcome in the same fandom as them, and that, quite frankly, sucks.