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Documentary film discusses homophobia in collegiate athletics

Rene Portland, a basketball coach at Penn State for 27 years, had a “no lesbian” policy when dealing with her team members. (Nathan A. Smith)

Rene Portland had three rules: no drinking, no drugs, no lesbians.

The Penn State University coach upheld these rules throughout her 27-year career coaching the Lady Lions basketball team. The documentary “Training Rules” chronicles star basketball player Jen Harris’ dismissal from the team in 2005 when Portland thought she was gay; Harris successfully filed a lawsuit against Portland, athletic director Tim Curley and Penn State with the help of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Mills College will be hosting a screening of the award-winning film on Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. in Haas Pavilion, followed by a discussion panel with the film’s co-director Fawn Yacker and Helen Carroll, director of the Sports Project at NCLR. Carroll, who is featured in the film, was the the director of Mills’ Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation from 1990-2000.

Themy Adachi, the current director of APER, said the film is especially relevant to Mills’ orientation towards social justice, especially within the sports department.

“We are committed to inclusion, and this film addresses how homophobia has played out in sports,” Adachi said. “It’s a way of bringing awareness to our resolve and commitment to inclusion.”
Desirae Tongco, a member of the Mills swim team and the swim team representative for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, said that the screening would allow Mills students to reflect on various issues in sports.

“I feel like being students at Mills opens our eyes to some of the gender issues that happen,” said Tongco, a junior.

In addition to having a relevant message for students, Mills played an integral part in the film as well.

Former APER director Carroll, who was not available for comment, helped Harris in her lawsuit against Penn State University. The organization that she worked for, NCLR, deemed Portland’s decision to suspend Harris from the basketball team as being homophobic, discriminating against those who are completely capable of playing sports.

Elese Lebsack, APER’s compliance officer and sports information director, said the documentary shot their B-roll footage at Mills, a term used for footage woven into a film to add imagery.

“Mills students might recognize certain scenes in the documentary because they were shot in the gym,” Lebsack said. “You might also recognize Mills people because they were shot in the film.”

Lebsack said that even without Mills’ presence in the film, the documentary is still relevant and important for students to see.

“I still feel like even without that connection we could do that screening,” Lebsack said. “It’s an important thing to do. I think it’s an awareness-raising piece about homophobia in sports that is important to share.”

Mills’ swimming coach Neil Virtue said the film screening will also explore the various gender roles in sports.

“In women’s sports it’s considered that in order to be good you have to have male attributes like being fast and strong, even though women have these qualities as well,” Virtue said.

Virtue said that Mills doesn’t seem to have these preconceived notions though.

“I think that in general the Mills student body is interested in equal treatment of people,” Virtue said.

In addition, Lebsack said that Mills has generally been a very open and accepting community for students and athletes.

“We’re really lucky at Mills to have an environment that is outside of the norm,” Lebsack said, “but we have to recognize that not everyone is like that.”

And while Mills may currently be diverse, Adachi said that this may not have always been the case, especially for all-women’s colleges across the nation.

“Mills has become a much more inclusive place; not only racially, but for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population as well,” Adachi said. “There was a point in time before 2000 that women’s colleges kind of felt like they had to not be viewed as a place that was highly populated with lesbians. There was such homophobia that that’s why schools could say, ‘we don’t allow lesbians here,’ and the school were okay with it.”