Penn State Women's Basketball Coach Resigns after Discrimination Lawsuits
Penn State women's basketball coach, Rene Portland, who had been accused of discriminating against lesbian players on her team, resigned Wednesday after 27 years coaching the Lady Lions. The announcement comes just a month after Portland and Penn State settled a lawsuit filed by Jennifer Harris, a former player. With help from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Harris filed a federal lawsuit against Penn State for alleged racial and sexual discrimination. Harris asserted that Portland told her she needed to look "more feminine" and continually pressured her to change her appearance. After a six-month internal investigation the university found Portland created a "hostile, intimidating and offensive environment" as a result of Harris' perceived sexual orientation. As a result, Portland was fined $10,000 and ordered to participate in a professional development program focused on "diversity and inclusiveness." During this time she was threatened with dismissal for any future violation of the school's discrimination policy, according to USA Today.
Portland has come under pressure for her comments on lesbianism and homosexuality in the past, as well. In 1986, the Chicago Sun-Times quoted her speaking about lesbian players: "I will not have it in my program," Portland said in a recruiting visit with a prospective athlete, "I bring it up and the kids are so relieved and the parents are so relieved," she said. Portland allegedly used her prejudice as a recruiting tactic, claiming to allay prospective team members' fears of an atmosphere promoting homosexuality, the Sun-Times reported. Again, in 1991, the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted former players, recruits and colleagues of Portland saying she did not tolerate homosexuality among her players.
Pat Griffin author of Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sport hopes other universities learn from Penn State’s experience and no longer support discrimination against homosexuals in athletics, writing on OutSports.com that Portland's resignation "sends a huge message to other schools about the consequences of ignoring, condoning or perpetrating anti-lesbian and gay discrimination."
Media Resources: USA Today 4/18/06; Chicago Sun-Times 6/16/86; Associated Press 3/21/91; New York Times 12/20/1991, Outsports 3/22/07; Associated Press 3/22/07