Last year, the WNBA made history as the first major professional sports league to have a presence in the NYC Pride Parade. The New York Liberty will make history again with their first-ever float in the 2017 Pride parade, as well as by hosting the team’s annual Pride Night (celebrated this year at their June 23rd game against the Connecticut Sun at Madison Square Garden).
Out shooting guard Shavonte Zellous says she’s “excited” about celebrating Pride with her teammates this year, especially since she’s never been to Pride before. The WNBA season is in full swing every June, so getting any time off is difficult, but Zellous can’t wait to be involved in the festivities this year.
“I’m gonna try and get to do something around Pride just to show my face somewhere, just to be a part of something,” she says, noting that she’s thrilled so many of her teammates are joining her, including straight allies.“I think everybody is jumping on board and open to the mentality of, ‘Hey, that’s your life, that’s what you wanna do, I’m gonna support you. I’m gonna be happy for you regardless.’”
And that has been her experience inside the WNBA, despite persistent rumors about the league’s alleged unfriendliness to gay players, or outward homophobia. Zellous says she had “absolutely no” qualms about being out to teammates and fans since joining the league in 2009.
“For myself, I am who I am. I couldn’t care less what you say about me,” she says. “I think that’s what’s so unique about me, that I can also make my teammates not care. You can be who you are, no matter what they say, no matter how bad they talk about you. At the end of the day, nobody can touch you. I know we have crazy people out there doing crazy things, but I really never look into it like that. I’m gonna be who I am— whether you like it or not.”
Zellous grew up in Orlando, where her mother still lives, and she says it was “devastating” to hear about the attack on Pulse at this time last year. “[I] still have family down there that attend [LGBTQ and Pride events],” she says. “I was trying to get down there before the W[NBA] started, but our season got pushed back overseas so I wasn’t able to do so. I wanted to be able to go down there just to see [the memorial].”
Feeling the support from the league and the Liberty has been so important to Zellous, who says she loves Pride Night because it also gives fans an opportunity to feel welcome when happenings and ideologies in the world might suggest otherwise.
“People are opening up to people who are lesbians or however else they call themselves,” Zellous says. “I think it’s just so great that the W—not only the W, but the New York Liberty—are doing things like this to make [people] more aware, and to make people more comfortable and not feel judged for who they are; telling them just to be yourself at all times. I just give credit to the WNBA for supporting this month as Pride month.”
This year’s Pride Night will be even “bigger” than before, Zellous says, and hopes the pervasive idea that the WNBA is full of lesbians based on how they look on the court will eventually fade away. That kind of stereotyping detracts from the game itself and all of the positivity and inclusiveness the league hopes to instill.
“I wish people would have more of an open mind,” Zellous says. “We have a group of girls that aren’t lesbians, but they support their teammates. … I think now that everybody is more aware of Pride and the opportunities that it brings for individuals like myself and young kids, it’s a plus. The turnout from last year’s Pride was amazing, and this year, with the parade and all the activities that are going on, I’m sure it will be huge.”