'Fire The Coach' Gay Rights Group Targets Penn State's Portland At Temple Game

Posted: January 10, 1992

Holding up signs that proclaimed, "Save the Lesbians," an ad hoc coalition of vocal gay rights activists showed up at Temple last night in protest of Penn State women's basketball coach Rene Portland, an outspoken opponent of lesbianism in collegiate athletics.

Seated behind the Penn State bench as the ninth-ranked Lions defeated Temple, 92-76, a crowd of about 35 demonstrators, members of Queer Action, assailed Portland for discriminatory comments in which she claimed that she was attempting to change the stereotype of female athletes as "dykes" and for an alleged ban of lesbians from her team in the past. Chanting slogans such as, "Out of the closet and on the court!" and "Fire the coach, not the dykes!" the group blew whistles at Portland as she led her team off the court at halftime and staged as "kiss-in" during a second-half timeout.

"We are against Rene Portland, not Penn State," said Queer Action spokeswoman Zoe Strauss, dressed in a cheerleader skirt and wearing a wristwatch that said, "I Love Women."

"She has proved herself to be clearly homophobic. We believe she should be fired."

Kneeling on the sideline during the game and remaining composed as the demonstrators hurled abuse at her, Portland offered only passing comment on the protest. Citing a policy Penn State issued last May prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Portland said she is an ''employee of Penn State" and is "aware of what our university" enacted. When asked if the demonstrators had an unsettling effect on her, Portland said only, "My job is to coach . . . I represent Penn State and tonight we won a game."

Added leading scorer (23 points) Kathy Phillips: "We came in ready to play basketball. We were focused on what we had to do."

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