Gay coach stands up for trans athletes, denounces anti-LGBTQ bills

Anthony Nicodemo at the Gay City News Impact Awards.
Anthony Nicodemo at the Gay City News Impact Awards.
Donna Aceto

A decade after coming out, coach Anthony Nicodemo is underscoring a key message: “Push back” against the current tidal wave of anti-LGBTQ laws and “stay engaged” in politics.

In 2013, Nicodemo, who was a boys’ basketball coach at Saunders Trades and Technical High School in Yonkers, came out as gay in an exclusive interview in Outsports. He was inspired by NBA basketball star Jason Collins’ coming out in Sports Illustrated earlier that spring and by attending Nike’s 2013 LGBT Sports Coalition Summit in Portland, Oregon.

Since then, the 45-year-old social studies teacher and award-winning coach turned an underdog team, the Saunders Blue Devils, into winners, and became the athletic director and boys’ basketball coach at the Greenburgh-North Castle School District in 2019.

Nicodemo became bolder and more outspoken with his team about bullying, hazing, homophobia, underrepresented youth, and the effects of the pandemic on young athletes.

Being out “allowed my players who might have had some prejudices or bias to be around someone who was part of the LGBTQ community, and it broke stereotypes,” he said.

“My kids were part of the GSAs. My kids [were] the big dogs, so to speak,” he said. “So, when something went on and there was bullying, my kids stepped in and we’re like, ‘No we’re not doing that.’”

Nicodemo also become a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights and out athletes, serving on several boards, including the Sports Equality Foundation, and he chairs Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano’s LGBTQ Advisory Board.

He hosted a leadership summit for young athletes. He also ran as a Democrat for New York State Assembly in 2018 before dropping out of the race.

“My visibility helped allow that, gave me a voice,” he said. “You want to be able to take the leadership role on these things.”

Nicodemo received honors for his leadership in the past decade. In 2015 he was named Conference II co-coach of the year by the Lower Hudson Basketball Coaches Association, where he also serves as director. In 2017, when he received a Gay City News Impact Award, the newspaper described him as a “leader on and off the court.”

Nicodemo has been the athletic director and boys’ basketball coach at the Greenburgh-North Castle School District since 2019.
Nicodemo has been the athletic director and boys’ basketball coach at the Greenburgh-North Castle School District since 2019.

One and only

A decade later, it is believed that Nicodemo remains the first openly gay boys’ high school basketball coach in the New York City metropolitan area. A member of the 1,000-member Sports Equality Foundation’s Facebook group, Equality Coaching Alliance, the nearly 30-year coaching veteran said to this day, there are “very few” openly gay men coaching.

Nationally, “I don’t know many that coach boys’ basketball,” he told Gay City News.

“I don’t know another openly gay male athletic director in the State of New York, and New York is a very large state,” he added.

Nicodemo believes it’s different for women’s sports, where there are a few more openly lesbian coaches.

“I think it’s a little bit accepted,” he said, adding that “the challenges that come with that are a different conversation, but it’s certainly not where it should be.”

He hasn’t had to navigate having a transgender boy athlete or his team competing out of state with a state that has anti-transgender sports laws, he said. The closest he’s come is having some non-binary student athletes.

“If you have a trans student athlete and you’re going to look to go play somewhere else, you’ve got a problem, legitimately,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to go play in a high school association that has different rules,” he said.

He certainly hopes that an athletic director or a coach would never leave an athlete behind.

“I would never travel to a place where my entire roster isn’t going to be accepted and safe,” he said.

Push back

Nicodemo calls out bigotry when he sees it. Outsports reported one incident that made national headlines in 2018 when ally Somers High School coach, Chris DiCintio, and he were suspended by the Section One Athletic Council at the start of the 2018/19 season for not filing proper paperwork for an LGBTQ-inclusion game. Section One represents the lower part of the Hudson Valley in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. The suspension raised questions about whether the suspension was homophobic. It garnered national attention with politicians, New York’s teachers’ unions, and civil rights organizations coming out in support of Nicodemo.

Last year Nicodemo spoke out against Republican Yonkers City Councilmember Anthony Merante after the lawmaker expressed concern on Facebook about children attending Yonkers’ third annual Pride Festival.

Nicodemo responded to Yonkers Times calling Merante’s views as “bigoted” and “pure ignorance.”

He said the event was “a beautiful way to bring together the community,” adding, “For Mr. Merante to stir the pot and create hate and division for political purposes is embarrassing.”

In April, Republican State Assemblymember Andy Goodell and State Senator George Borrello — who both represent districts in western New York — introduced S6259/A6124, which proposes to ban schools from allowing anyone assigned male at birth to participate in girls’ sports from grades seven through twelve, Gay City News reported. The bill is doomed in the Democratic controlled State Legislature.

Nicodemo called that bill and the one passed by the House of Represetnatives earlier this year “political posturing.”

“It’s never going to pass. It’s a bill for their base. It’s a bill for these politicians to go home and say, ‘Hey, look what I did. I’m trying to keep some people out of the locker room,’” he said.

The problem is that “the political posturing and the media coverage that comes with it is harmful to trans youth [and] it’s harmful to LGBTQ youth,” Nicodemo said, stating, “We need people who are going to push back.”

He added: “The days of sitting back and being quiet are over.”

As a history teacher, he sees the current anti-LGBTQ backlash as a part of the political cycle in the US.

“There’s pushback and then eventually in this country, we do progress always. We’ve never not progressed,” he said.

“We’ve got to be able to push back now at this particular point in history,” he said. “Make sure that we don’t stay silent. We push back on these people and expose them for their hate and expose them for their prejudice and expose them for their bias.”