Last night at Hi Tops, a gay sports bar in the Castro, nobody was paying attention to the Giants-Mets game. Instead, focus was on the athlete in the room. The newly-signed Raiders punter Chris Kluwe had come without a team minder or a press agent to meet fans grateful for his gay rights advocacy, which he has trumpeted everywhere from his blog to CNN to the Ellen Degeneres Show.
Despite working in the notoriously conservative world of professional athletics, Kluwe, who is straight, wants to encourage gay athletes and fans to come out and receive equal rights and treatment. Last year the punter came to national attention for his hilarious open letter to Maryland state assembly delegate Emmet Burns which defended, eloquently and profanely, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s right to advocate for marriage equality. “Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed” wrote Kluwe, memorably asking, “Why do you hate freedom?” and punctuating his remarks with phrases like, “Holy fucking shitballs.”
Kluwe popped by Hi Tops after reading from his new book of essays, Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies, at nearby Books Inc., and inside the bar, he was as comfortable as anyone: Blending into the crowd, posing for photos, sharing hugs and handshakes. Basically, it was a bunch of bros, broing out, except that one of them was a pro athlete and the bar was in the Castro. “The thing is, I’m just hanging out with people,” he told me, biting into a cheeseburger and garlic fries. “I think people have this mistaken assumption that if they walk into a gay bar they’re immediately going to get jumped by everyone because they’re so irresistibly attractive that they’ll be like ‘ermegod!’” he said, laughing. “C’mon, you’re not all that!”
“It’s awesome to see [Kluwe] not just taking a verbal stand about LGBT issues but actually showing up at a gay bar in San Francisco, just hanging out,” said bargoer Christopher Vasquez. Paul Hogarth, another fan and a local blogger, posed for a photo with Kluwe. “It's so cute when a straight guy says ‘if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for you,” Hogarth said. Among his many new fans in the Bay Area, Kluwe acknowledged that his role goes beyond professional athlete and even public figure. “Athletes are regarded as role models,” said Kluwe, “I’m a role model, so I want to be a good one.”
As I snapped photos of Kluwe and admirers, a man tapped me on the shoulder. “You couldn’t do that ten years ago,” he said. “What?" I asked, "Come out in favor of gay rights in sports?” “No,” he said, “take pictures in a gay bar. You’d ruin people’s lives.”