This weekend is the world championships of competitive cheerleading in Orlando, and back in March this year's participants were faced with an addendum to the U.S. All Star Federation's set of guidelines—specifically, a new set of "image etiquette" best practices. They range from sounding harmless, albeit something the Trunchbull might have dreamed up ("Bows should not be excessive in size—acceptable bows are generally no more than 3 inches") to straight-up offensive, especially this one: "Males-minimize exaggerated or theatrical movements."
There's been a significant kickup in the competitive cheer community (including a petition), but one 26-year-old Illinois coach named Kyle Gadke is taking it to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Gadke, who, at a younger age, struggled with coming out as gay in rural Iowa, says that he's seen the mat as a safe haven and place of creative expression for gay teens when posted his complaints to online cheer forum Fierce Board:
I feel this is a sugar-coated way to say "We don't want the guys to look gay! We want a better imagine of heterosexuality to promote to get more boys in the sport!" ...Am I being defensive and reading to much into this? Or is this really a discrimination issue targeted at males in our industry?"
In the ensuing 17-page thread, Gadke posts brief details of his next legal steps and more outraged voices chime in.
Randy Dickey, who began coaching cheerleading in 1990 and now owns three venues in the All-Star Gym Association, says he knew it was a big deal when 996 members called into a conference call that usually only attracts a dozen people. However offensive the law is, Dickey adds, a gender-neutral version has its roots in the competition, sort of: particularly extravagant, gesticulating teammembers screw up the synchronized element that's inherent in cheer.
SInce the onslaught of complaints, the USASF has stated that they will amend the "theatrical movements" rule to apply to both genders, and added "It was not [our] intention to offend or single out anyone."
"Males-Minimize Exaggerated or Theatrical Movements" [Slate]
Varsity All-Star Ad Space: Interview With Randy Dickey [Varsity All-Star]
Image via Steven R. Hendricks/Shutterstock