A former University of Southern California point guard, Camille LeNoir, alleges she was denied an assistant coaching job in the New Mexico State University athletic department because of her sexual orientation. This week, a federal judge in California decided to allow her discrimination case to advance.
LeNoir’s case is proceeding just four months after Jane Meyer, the former senior associate athletic director at the University of Iowa, won $1.43 million in a landmark Title IX lawsuit over gender and sexual orientation discrimination.
But LeNoir and Meyer aren’t making exactly the same arguments. LeNoir says she was discriminated against because the head coach found out that she is a Christian who no longer identifies as homosexual.
In 2009, after she graduated from USC, LeNoir was a second-round draft pick by the Washington Mystics. She never made it onto a WNBA roster, however, and ended up going overseas, where she had a successful professional basketball career in Greece.
In April 2016, Mark Trakh, who had coached LeNoir at USC and who was working at the time as NMSU’s head women’s basketball coach, extended an oral job offer to LeNoir to join him at NMSU. But days before LeNoir was scheduled to fly out to NMSU to formally discuss the hiring process, a lesbian assistant coach on the staff showed Trakh a YouTube video of LeNoir discussing her sexuality and religious beliefs. Soon thereafter, Trakh rescinded the offer.
In the 2011 video, which is still available online, LeNoir discusses being “delivered” from the “lifestyle” of being gay, describes homosexuality as “wrong.”
“If you are in a same-sex relationship, it is not worth losing your soul,” she advises in the video. Being in such a relationship “will be the death of you,” she says, but she believes “you can overcome and defeat sin.”
“If you believe you were born gay or homosexual or whatever — if you feel you were born that way — I would say that you weren’t. God wouldn’t create you homosexual, then say in the Bible that it’s wrong, and then send you to Hell.” Suggesting it’s a choice, she concludes, “Don’t be deceived, and God can heal you.”
NMSU denies that LeNoir’s offer was revoked because of her sex, sexual orientation, or religion — and further argues that it was not bound by the informal oral offer anyway. Trakh made the offer “outside of NMSU’s job posting procedures,” the university contends, which require a public posting and standard recruitment process. “Therefore, irrespective of the online video, Ms. LeNoir very well may not have been hired,” the university concludes.
But the lawsuit does say that Trakh advised LeNoir to take down the video, noting that the video “would make it difficult for her to find a job in women’s college basketball.”
That seems to be a fair statement. After all, not only does LeNoir say horrendous things about homosexuality, she also declares that she is leaving professional sports because “God — He has shown me just how evil sports really are.” She says that sports are laden with “idol worship, greed, the level of money, the hatred, the envy” and she could not be “equally yoked with non-believers.” She explains that “competition came from Satan, not from God,” and that “everything that Jesus preached from the Sermon on the Mount contradicts everything the sports atmosphere promotes. Everything.”
In the lawsuit, LeNoir says she stands by her comments, which she describes as “intimately personal and an expression of her love for her faith and how she identified herself sexually.”
LeNoir also says in her YouTube video that “homosexuality in women’s college basketball has become the norm” — a statement reminiscent of comments made earlier this year by former WNBA star Candice Wiggins, who claimed that 98 percent of the WNBA is gay and that she was bullied for being straight and feminine during her time in the league.
Such comments not only contradict the diverse, inclusive environment that the WNBA has worked hard to cultivate, but also make it seem like women’s basketball is a homophobia-free zone. That’s far from the case. Outsports reports that while there are expected to be “a lot” of lesbian coaches in women’s college basketball, only two are publicly out right now — Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White and La Verne (California) head coach Julie Shaw. In fact, homophobia is so rampant that colleges go overboard to emphasize their “family” (a.k.a heterosexual) environment during recruiting visits. “Negative recruiting” — when colleges spread rumors that rival programs have LGBTQ coaches or star athletes to try and dissuade recruits from signing with them — is still a common tactic, even in the year 2017.
This spring, an assistant coach for Dawn Staley at the University of South Carolina said that homophobia is the “white elephant” in the women’s college basketball world that doesn’t get talked about.
“There is still a lot of fear out there among lesbian coaches about coming out and suffering professional consequences as a result,” Pat Griffin, a Massachusetts Amherst professor who has studied and written about homophobia and sports, told Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune in January. This fear is exacerbated by the fact that since 1973, the number of female head coaches in women’s college sports has decreased by nearly 50 percent since 1973.
New Mexico state law, as well as NMSU’s own policies, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It would be wrong for LeNoir to lose an opportunity to coach merely because of her personal religious beliefs and her heterosexual orientation — but it’s also understandable why a team with openly LGBTQ assistant coaches that is trying to cultivate an inclusive environment would be wary of LeNoir’s extremely vocal position that homosexuality is a sin and that gay people need to be rescued. Likewise, it’s hard to see how a coach that blatantly describes professional sports as evil and says that competition came from Satan would be a good fit in any locker room.
But, for now, LeNoir’s lawsuit will press onward. She is requesting $6 million in damages.