Major League Baseball's message of acceptance and inclusion has been received widely and warmly throughout Pride Month, from the first Youth Pride event that drew volunteers from the Commissioner's Office this weekend in New York, to the ceremonial first pitch by Orlando nightclub shooting survivor Amanda Grau at a Rays home game, to the ever-increasing special group and LGBT-themed club nights before enthusiastic crowds at most ballparks.
"We have such a great buy-in with the message of inclusion and acceptance around the league," said Billy Bean, MLB's vice president and special assistant to the Commissioner. "I couldn't be prouder of baseball -- we're really leading the way. In the spirit of Jackie Robinson, on the 70th anniversary, we feel like we have to lead the industry and be strong role models. We have a lot of work to do, but we have made so much progress."
Bean attended Mariners Pride Night last Thursday, speaking to in-game staff and to LGBT youth scholarship winners from the Greater Seattle Business Association. On Monday night, he is representing MLB at the Giants Pride Night event at AT&T Park. These type of events have been widespread during the past month, taking Bean all over the Majors. He said MLB has more than 20 clubs in terms of some kind of ballpark Pride events.
"It's been interesting to watch it expand over the last few years, and I think that's a great example of the clubs understanding our responsibility to our communities, and the importance of a positive and accepting message," he said. "A couple of clubs started this about 14 or 15 years ago, and now I think in one way, shape, or form we're above 20. Overall, it's just been great.
"When I was playing, if I would have seen a night like that, it would have had such a powerful impact on me. We don't have any players that are out or open, I don't know if that is on the horizon or not, but for me, that's not really a report card of the work that all of our teams, the buy-in for expanding the message of inclusion and acceptance. It's a great example if you're an employee, if you walked in through the turnstiles and you're sitting there enjoying a game for the very first time, which I think is what a lot of times the Pride Nights accomplish -- somebody might show up at a game and be like, 'Wow, if a team I love this much and have been following my whole life, if they're taking the lead with a message like that, only good can come from it.'"
Perhaps no moment in Pride Month across baseball was more emotional than June 9 at Tropicana Field, where the Rays hosted family and friends of those lost nearly one year earlier in the Orlando nightclub shooting. That included Grau, who survived the tragic event that targeted LGBT individuals. The hashtag #HonorThemWithAction was used for that tribute game, and a wall at the ballpark showed many ways people are commemorating and showing their support for the LBGT community.
"To see such an organization as the Tampa Bay Rays coming together in such a fashion and bringing to the forefront the issues that are facing the LBGT community, it is unspeakable," Grau said. "You can't put words to that."
Rays president Brian Auld said: "We want to let our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community know that we stand with them in their struggle for equality, and that we will continue to do so going forward. When we get the opportunity to stand up for something as equality for all, we enjoy doing it, we appreciate doing it, and we put our entire organization into doing it."
At Pride Night in Oakland, Sean Doolittle's fiancee, Eireann Dolan, was interviewed in the stands and said, "It's a great opportunity to see what businesses in the local area are supportive of the LBGTQ community, and it's also a great opportunity to show our neighbors and our fellow fans that we are here for them no matter who they are and who they love."
On Saturday in Manhattan, a team of 10 to 15 volunteers from the Commissioner's Office volunteered at the inaugural Youth Pride event hosted by NYC Pride, part of the big Pride weekend activities there. The new event was geared toward youth 13 to 20, with more than 1,200 people registered. It was done in conjunction with Heritage of Pride, which is committed to recruiting dedicated, reliable volunteers to assist in the production and execution of New York's annual Pride events. Though volunteers need not identify as LGBT; it is imperative that all volunteers be LGBT-affirming and support the ongoing struggle for full equality.
"This year, MLB started Business Resource Groups, and one of those groups is MLB PRIDE, which is the business resource group for LGBT employees and allies," said Ernesto Hernandez, MLB's manager of international baseball investigations and compliance. "We wanted to join with NYC Pride and do something for an event that they were hosting, and we figured that a family-friendly event like Youth Pride would be a great partnership opportunity for MLB.
"Sports in general have such a big impact on the culture we live in, and by taking part in an event like this, MLB has shown that they are supportive, they are inclusive, they are diverse. They are taking steps in the right direction. So, it was important for us to be a part of this today."
Eboni Munn, communications manager of NYC Pride, called it "an amazing partnership. We're excited about MLB being here, and we just look forward to other ways to work together."
Bean said MLB is close to making "a great announcement on an anti-bullying initiative." He considers it a natural transition of the message he has espoused as an open former player.
"We may not have a player come out for a while, but we can be great examples to the kids in our communities," he said. "The anti-bullying that's comprehensive of everybody in the diversity spectrum makes me super-excited, and I'm really proud of the effort we have made to make that happen."
Now that real progress seems to be happening in MLB's message of acceptance and inclusion, Bean was asked by Ken Rosenthal on MLB Network what he would like to see MLB accomplish in the next five years.
"I would like to be in every single community of our 30 clubs, and going to the schools, and make a profound statement with the support of our superstar players," Bean replied. "For them to embrace that ambassador in each and every one of them, and to go in there and try to make kids safer walking to and from school, what can be better than creating a legacy? Really in the spirit of Jackie Robinson's 70th anniversary, this year is where we've been trying to get this campaign initiated, and we're right there. So for me in five years, I'd like to see that and I couldn't be prouder if that comes around."