Nearly 70 teams across Minor League Baseball will be coming together this summer to “strike out” hate with the largest “Pride Night” celebration in all of pro sports. The Las Vegas Aviators will host theirs in the team’s June 24 game against Sacramento at the Las Vegas Ballpark in Summerlin and will take place two days after the Las Vegas Aces WNBA team’s home game vs the Dallas Wings.
The Vegas event is just one of many this month around baseball. According to MiLB.com, MiLB Pride events league wide include encouraging teams to hold LGBTQ-themed nights, incorporate”Pride” into scheduled promotions, provide discounted tickets to LGBTQ organizations while also engaging with the LGBTQ community both in the ballpark and beyond.
“MiLB Pride” was created in response to a growing industry trend with just 19 teams staging Pride Nights in 2017, before 41 did so in 2018.
“The numbers doubled by themselves, so we thought we should lend a hand,” said Vince Pierson, director of diversity and inclusion for Minor League Baseball. “It’s a hybrid approach, whatever option the team wanted to take. You can dive in, or dip your toe.
“We have over 20 teams doing this for the first time, so at the national level we’re providing support. We’re wanting to be silent partners, like, ‘You may not have known, but there’s this team with a similar market size and similar fan base. We can connect you with that team. We can facilitate.'”
✈️⚾️🏳️🌈 Nonstop Pride.
— Las Vegas Aviators (@AviatorsLV) June 10, 2019
For Las Vegas, “Pride Night” is a big deal for members of the LGBTQ community. Bringing awareness to groups like Golden Rainbow (which holds its 33rd annual Ribbon of Life show June 23 with a “Summer of Love” theme), or AFAN (which is hosting its 33rd annual Black & White Party in The Joint at the Hard Rock August 10) is no easy task. Add into that the sports component with the Aviators being MiLB’s attendance leader thus far in 2019 (more than 9,600 per game), and the event has the potential to be one of the city’s most influential LGBTQ events every year.
Bringing awareness to bullying that affects the LGBTQ community is paramount, especially for young people. Results from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that, nationwide, more U.S. high school students who self-identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) report having been bullied on school property (33%) and cyberbullied (27.1%) in the past year, than their heterosexual peers (17.1% and 13.3%, respectively).
The study also showed that more LGB students (10%) than heterosexual students (6.1%) reported not going to school because of safety concerns. Among students who identified as “not sure” of their sexual orientation, they also reported being bullied on school property (24.3%), being cyberbullied (22%), and not going to school because of safety concerns (10.7%).
While support for “Pride Night” has been growing exponentially despite little resistance, adding more partnerships and franchises to join in the night of tolerance and community has been vital to reaching out to each individual baseball communities. The event’s planned in coordination with LGBTQ Pride Month.
“[MiLB Pride] hopefully feeds competition and gives team a sense of calm, that they’re joining a party that’s already going on,” said Pierson. “Now, in your local market, that might not ring as true. We don’t try to sugarcoat it. That first year, you’re doing something that’s out of your comfort zone. It can be a loaded topic and you don’t get to pick the way the conversation goes after you put it into the world. But after the first year, it’s easier.
“You’ll have some social media stuff, some fans that won’t come back. But you weather the storm and take the intentional step to engage. You embrace a community that might not have always felt safe at the ballpark. You correct that stigma and feel comfortable standing on that. Give it 365 days and I guarantee that after that, it will not be as difficult of a conversation.”
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) June 3, 2019
Pierson made it clear Pride Night are not just to one-night events for the teams, but one of many outreaches within the individual communities.
“We have 150-plus local organizations as partners. That’s a key element,” he said. “If there are local meetings, then you can be present at that organization’s local meetings and local activities. Provide education for the game day staff and full-time staff, during the season or the offseason. We’re hoping teams maximize relations beyond a single Pride Night.”
All but two Major League Baseball teams host “Pride Nights,” with only the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers as the only two teams not joining in. The first of event of its kind took place at Wrigley Field in 2001 with “Gay Days,” which is now known as “Out at Wrigley.”
“For Minor League Baseball, I think this is a moment in history for us,” Pierson said. “It may not feel like that, and some may be uncomfortable, but once we look back on it, we can say that what we started in 2008 [with the Diversity Initiative], we’re doubling down. In some areas we’re forced to grow and in some areas it’s a reflection of our growth. We can come to terms with both of those things and keep on charging, from one to 160, and all be better for it.
“Other than that, let’s sit back and watch 2019 unfold with a rainbow tent over it the entire time. Let’s be excited about what we’re able to do.”