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Reign game caps Pride week in Seattle

On June 20, 2017, soccer player Megan Rapinoe, right, Seattle Reign FC forward, who is openly gay, answers questions from the media during a group news conference in Pioneer Square. Seattle professional sports teams held joint news conference to announce a coordinated effort for its LGBT pride month activities. Representatives from the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders, Storm and Reign were there. From left in the photo are Adrian Hanauer, Sounders FC owner, Brad Evans, Sounders FC defender, Ed Goines, Seahawks VP. (Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times)

When Megan Rapinoe first publicly said she was gay before the 2012 Olympics, she felt ready and that it was the right time.

“I had kind of come to a point in my life and thinking about my sexuality that this is just stupid that I’m not out,” Rapinoe, a forward for the Seattle Reign, said. “I wanted to be out. I wanted to be out because that’s who I was.”

Rapinoe was comfortable with the world knowing, but still, five years later, gay athletes across all sports might not feel that way, she said. That’s why she called the Reign’s match against FC Kansas City an “important” one.

Saturday’s Reign game marks the end of a four-day stretch of Pride nights for Seattle’s professional teams, which also included the Sounders, Mariners and Storm. Actively taking part in nights like these, Rapinoe said, can help signal a team’s commitment to LGBT equality more so than simply having inclusive policies in place. The joint effort among a city’s teams for this cause is the first of its kind, organizers said.

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“It’s something that the world really should look up to and take note of,” said Jessica Fishlock, who is a Reign midfielder and is openly gay.

Both Fishlock and Rapinoe said their experiences coming out were positive ones. And among Reign players inclusivity isn’t an issue.

“Whether (players) are gay or they’re straight, we still voice the same opinion,” Fishlock said. “That is what is so special about our group.”

Playing in Seattle adds to the safe environment for these Reign players. Here, Fishlock said, people can be who they are without hesitation, whereas in some countries around the world, Fishlock knows she should wear a long-sleeved shirt to cover her small tattoo of two female silhouettes.

Social media opens the door for disrespectful comments, but after the first one, Fishlock said they aren’t bothersome. Overall, the sport of women’s soccer itself is one that welcomes the LGBT community, Rapinoe said.

“The women’s soccer fan community and sort of support system obviously has a lot of LGBT fans,” Rapinoe said. “I think wherever you go in soccer, even if it’s a super conservative city, there’s lots of gays everywhere.”

Due to stereotypes, Rapinoe said society is more comfortable with gay athletes in women’s sports, such as herself and Fishlock, than those in men’s sports. Robbie Rogers, who is on the L.A. Galaxy, is Major League Soccer’s first openly gay player and is the only active professional player in a men’s league who is out.

“We look at our male athletes as big, strong and macho, which signals heterosexual, and we look at our female athletes as big and strong and that seems to signal homosexual for females,” Rapinoe said. “I think there’s still just a lot of sexism around it. I think for the most part, male locker rooms haven’t proven to be very inclusive of LGBTQ athletes, whether they’re out or not.”

Making progress in areas such as those, the spaces that aren’t yet completely welcoming, is where Rapinoe said Pride nights can help prove where a team stands on the matter.

“Sport is followed so much by so many generations to think that it doesn’t have an impact is nothing but naiveté,” Fishlock said.