St. Louis is a city not particularly known for its progressiveness.
While famous for the Gateway Arch, St. Louis’s more recent reputation is scarred by police brutality towards the African American community and racial unrest. It is situated on the eastern tip of the State of Missouri. This is the same state whose premier vacation town, Branson, was succinctly dubbed by The Seattle Times as “hillbilly-chic” and was elsewhere less charitably nicknamed “hillbilly Las Vegas” and “little Las Vegas for Christians.” This may as well be a neon beacon declaring Missouri to be solid-red state in the heart of the Bible Belt surrounded by states cut from the same cloth.
So it was with some shock—especially after happily hosting Lance Berkman and his decidedly anti-LGBT political stances at Christian Day—that the St. Louis Cardinals organization hosted their first ever Pride Night in 2017. Despite some meager protests in Ballpark Village, the actual event was extremely popular, so much so that the Cardinals decided to host one again in 2018 and dub it the “2nd Annual Pride Night at Busch Stadium.”
In the same State of Missouri, 241 miles west across Interstate 70, sits Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals. Like the Cardinals, the Royals do have an LGBTQ-centric event. On September 15, fans can purchase tickets for the ‘Out with the Royals’ ticket promotion, where a portion of the ticket price will go towards AIDS Walk of Kansas City.
But unlike their eastern Missouri counterparts, the Royals are keeping Pride Night at arm’s length. Out with the Royals is an unofficial group sale event. There was not even a link from the Royals’ promotions page on their official website until after Royals Review corresponded with the Royals public relations department about the event. And Dayton Moore, General Manager of the organization, has both personally and professionally partnered with groups that have taken stances against the LGBTQ community. True support for the LGBTQ community comes from the consequences of a variety of actions, not merely a once-a-year theme night adorned with rainbow colors.
Fortunately for the Royals fans who are advocates for or are members of the Kansas City LGBTQ community, the seas are shifting and shifting in their favor.
On August 8, 2000, two women visited a Los Angeles Dodgers game. Those same two women were escorted out of the stadium later in the evening. During the game, Danielle Goldey and Meredith Kott shared a kiss, hardly a bizarre event for any couple out on a date. Indeed, their companions, a heterosexual couple, also kissed and were allowed to stay in their seats.
Goldey and Kott were initially confused about why they were being booted from the game, but they found out that somebody complained about them, specifically that “children should not be exposed to ‘those people.’”
In 2000, views about the gays were hardly positive. Two years earlier, Matthew Shepard of the University of Wyoming was brutally murdered for being gay, the events inspiring the creation of the award-winning play, The Laramie Project. While varying states legalized same-sex relations on their own, 14 states maintained their same-sex sodomy laws, Missouri included, until the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional in 2003.
Despite the chilly national climate towards LGBTQ individuals, the Los Angeles Dodgers responded to the treatment of Goldey and Kott not with a vague apology but with a legitimate extension of goodwill, donating 5,000 tickets to the LGBTQ community as a mea culpa and a commitment to equality. Cyd Zeigler, leading voice in the sports LGBTQ community and Managing Editor at Outsports.com, believes that this was the first ‘Pride Night’ in sports, and said that the Dodgers “responded perfectly.”
“Since then, Pride Nights have popped up at ballparks for various reasons,” Zeigler explained. “Until just the last few years, they were generally the result of a local LGBTQ organization contacting an MLB team and asking if they can do a group-sales event. In recent years many teams have taken the events ‘in house,’ made them officially sanctioned team events and elevated the level of the community’s profile in the club.”
Eighteen years after the Dodgers’ first ever Pride Night, LGBTQ events at Major League Baseball stadiums are commonplace. They are so commonplace, in fact, that 29 MLB teams have either had some sort of Pride Night in the past, official or not, or have one scheduled in the future. Barring a change of heart, the New York Yankees are the only holdout.
These events aren’t necessarily entirely done out of good will. Zeigler noted that baseball teams have 81 games to sell every year, and every promotion is ultimately a calculated effort to bring more fans into the gate, selling more seats and more hot dogs.
“But more and more,” Zeigler opined, “I think teams like the Dodgers are embracing these events because they see them as the right thing to do.”
“We were founded as a Christian ministry with a belief that the Bible is an inspired writing from God and that obeying it was not optional for those associated with City Union Mission. We believe that homosexuality is not acceptable to God, so we take that position,” wrote City Union Mission Director Dan Doty to Mic in 2014.
The Supreme Court of the United States legalized gay marriage in the groundbreaking Obgerfell vs. Hodges in June 2015, but for years prior, many states decided to legalize gay marriage on their own. Doty and the City Union Mission responded to the growing social issue by specifying a moral stand of their own: that practicing of homosexuality is sin, and as a result the independently-funded nonprofit would not allow homosexual couples to stay in their homeless shelters together.
This stance is not unusual among Evangelical groups. As of June 2017, 62% of Americans support gay marriage. However, such support is not distributed evenly. Only 35% of white evangelical protestants support gay marriage, and black protestants’ support of 44% still works out to a net disapproval. City Union Mission as an organization falls under the first category.
City Union Mission’s official stance on admittance of homosexual couples and their religion would usually not be particularly relevant, save for Dayton Moore. The Royals’ GM has personally and professionally partnered with the organization and has appeared in numerous ads for City Union Mission. Such a relationship extends to the organizational level, where Royals have partnered with the organization ever since Moore became GM in 2006, with players and staff volunteering every year in City Union Mission’s food banks.
Moore’s religious streak goes beyond partnering with homeless shelters, and his conservative, religious worldview has repeatedly made impacts in the organization. While claiming that the team does not take stands against “culturally sensitive issues,” the Royals took an active stance in the abortion debate, airing ads at Kauffman Stadium and over the radio for the pro-life group Vitae Foundation despite petitions asking the Royals to stop the partnership. The Royals, at the behest of the religious Mike Sweeney, invited actor Jim Cavaziel to spring training this year and screened a private showing of his movie Paul, Apostle of Christ for the organization.
Perhaps most famously, Moore invited anti-porn organization Fight the New Drug to make a presentation at spring training this year, strongly encouraging MLB players to attend and mandating that minor leaguers in camp do so. The Mormon-founded group claims religious independence, yet it eagerly works with churches to advances its message—and, yes, apparently Major League Baseball teams.
Most relevant to the LGBTQ issue at hand is the Royals’ annual Faith and Family Day. Every year’s event includes post-game speeches by Moore and/or varying players, staff, and guest speakers and concludes with a concert by a well-known Christian music artist or artists. This year’s event, which occurred on July 7, featured Christian rapper KJ-52 and Christian pop/crossover artist Michael W. Smith. In other words, Faith and Family Day honors all faiths as long as your faith happens to be Christianity.
Expecting such a conservative organization to willingly participate in and promote something progressive or, dare we say, ‘liberal,’ is probably asking too much. Such impetus rests, as most movements do, on activists to work in the trenches to get things done.
In 2014, in the midst of one of the most magical years in Royals franchise history, Scott Switzer was chatting with a friend about how many other big league clubs were hosting LGBT events. After all, it had been 14 years since the Dodgers hosted the first Pride Night. How come it hadn’t made its way to Kansas City? Switzer decided to take the answer into his own hands and do something about it.
Thus, in 2015, Out with the Royals was born as a community group sales event. Thanks to beer donation by Miller Lite and some grassroots organizing, Out with the Royals hosted a tailgate in the Kauffman Stadium parking lot and then watched a Royals baseball game together. It was, almost instantly, a hit.
“We thought we might have 50 people the first year and ended up with 300,” Switzer told me. Since then, it has grown, albeit modestly. Switzer says attendance at last year’s event reached about 600. Switzer knew that there needed to be some buy-in from the Royals organization to enable any growth, and the Royals did indeed engage with Switzer’s group.
“The first year we emailed the Royals, and they agreed to host us. They gave a portion of the proceeds back to the group, which we in turn have given to AIDS service foundation of Kansas City,” says Switzer. The relationship has continued. Last year, the Royals presented Out with the Royals with an on-field check for the AIDS Walk of Kansas City. The Heartland Men’s Chorus sang the national anthem that day, and MLB Ambassador for Inclusion, the openly gay Billy Bean, threw out the first pitch.
However, the Royals seem to have no desire for promoting the event further, and unintentionally or not have suppressed information about this year’s Out with the Royals event, which is on September 15.
Royals promotions are organized into two banners: specials, or theme tickets, and promotions. The former group consists of events like Bark at the Park, Teacher Appreciation Night, Faith and Family Day, and local university nights. The latter consists of smaller or multi-night specials like Bacon Day, Classic Car Show, 610 Saturday, and Student Night. A few months ago, when I began initial research for this piece, the Out with the Royals web page existed. However, the event was not linked on either the specials or promotions pages. In other words, it was actually impossible for anyone to find Out with the Royals information while looking at a full list of Royals promotions on their official website.
A few weeks after reaching out to multiple ticket agents and Matt Schulte, Royals Senior Manager of Events and Promotions, I received an email from Toby Cook, Vice President of Publicity for the Royals. Cook called Out with the Royals a “group sales event” and supplied a statement drafted by the PR department:
While this is still a group sales outing that sells several hundred tickets, we’re very hopeful that it will continue to grow, and we will continue to evaluate it annually. Generally, we plan larger platform “theme nights” prior to the start of a season once an event’s projected attendance reaches into the thousands.
Shortly after my correspondence with Cook, Out with the Royals appeared on the Royals website under the ‘specials’ designation.
It is impossible to tell if the Royals intentionally decided to leave the Out with the Royals promotion off of their website. It is simply possible that the Royals just forgot or neglected to include it for any number of legitimate reasons. But the Royals’ history in taking starkly religious and conservative stances certainly makes it reasonable to raise questions about intent. This is especially true considering the Royals’ somewhat nonsensical statement on the matter because no group ticket event can reach thousands of attendees if the Royals refuse to accommodate or advertise for said event. That an LGBTQ event will bring thousands of specific attendees in today’s MLB landscape is more or less guaranteed. Expecting it not to is tantamount to a refusal to advertise for it.
In some ways, however, the Royals’ reasons for resisting an officially sponsored Pride Night simply do not matter. Intent and impact are often not linked. The fact of the matter is that LGBTQ individuals have been historically oppressed in the United States, and while progress has been made, the statistics of the matter are overwhelmingly sobering.
According to a study done by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law, 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Despite a lack of evidence that it is possible to change sexual orientation via psychological therapy, many religious denominations support gay conversion therapy and disallow LGBTQ individuals from serving at all in a church setting. And LGBTQ youth are significantly more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual youth; per the Trevor Project, LGB youth are five times more likely to commit suicide, and a full 40% of transgender individuals have reported making a suicide attempt.
In few places is anti-LGTBQ rhetoric more active than in sports, which themselves often dovetail with toxic masculinity as a whole. That not a single active MLB or MiLB player has come out as gay is the canary in the coal mine.
I have known Dan Doty for 18 years. He is a good and kind man, thoughtful, and puts his family and the church first in his life. I grew up in the same church with him. During that time, we were taught that marriage was between a man and a woman and was provided the Biblical support for that statement. We were not taught to hate gays. We were taught to love everyone, the gays included. It’s just that, well, the gays were sinners, actively and continually sinning and distancing themselves from God. It was for their own good that marriage was kept proper.
The problem with such thoughts, such good intentions, is that the United States of America is not a Christian nation. Not all her citizens are Christians. She is stronger for it. Nothing but bad things happen when a state so closely cozies up with a specific organized religion, and such a bifurcation specifically exists in the U.S. Constitution via the First Amendment to prevent such an occurrence.
City Union Mission is an expressly religious organization, and while you may disagree with their stance, it is a perfectly legitimate one to take in regard to how the business operates. This is not so for the Royals, who are a public, secular organization. A reluctance to welcome LGBTQ fans is indeed a statement, even if a Pride Night is as innocuous an event as can be.
“Out with the Royals or Gay day at the K is not a way to force the ‘Gay Agenda,’” says Switzer. “There are still a lot of people that have hatred and disgust towards LGBTQ+ community. This is a way for us to enjoy a game with other LGBTQ+ people. To feel safe in an environment that some feel unsafe. Sports bring people together no matter color, race or sexual orientation.
“Out with the Royals was started to share the great memories that baseball has made, to people that have been fearful of going to a game because of who they are and what other people think of them.”
As Switzer and Zeigler argue, Pride Nights matter. They matter because they do good in a world and in a setting where LGBTQ individuals have not been welcome.
After finally hearing from Cook about the Royals’ stance on Out with the Royals, a question still burned in my pocket. I asked it.
Days went by. I thought my question was going to disappear in the wind. But it did not. My question: could there be a possibility of an official Pride Night if there was enough demand for it?
Cook responded. “Yes, we are certainly open to elevating the night to give it a bigger platform like our other ‘theme nights’. Because we plan out the promotional schedule during the offseason, we will discuss it ahead of 2019.”
Ultimately, the Royals are beholden to their fans. As the country becomes more comfortable with LGBTQ individuals and their issues, their fans will, too.
At Kauffman Stadium, Pride Night is kept at arm’s length. For now, at least. Thanks to Switzer and other grassroots organizers around Major League Baseball, that is changing.