When she entered the league in 1997, Violet Palmer broke multiple barriers. At the time, Palmer became the first female to ever officiate an NBA game, despite pressure from fans who believed that a woman would not be able to keep up with the physical or mental rigors of a man’s game. What many people did not know, however, was that Palmer was breaking another barrier – one that would not be made public for 17 years following her initial foray into the NBA: Besides being the first ever female referee, Palmer was also the first gay referee.
On Friday, Violet Palmer will marry her partner of 20 years, Tanya Stine – a popular hairdresser in Los Angeles. The proceedings will be officiated by Tanya Young Williams, star of Basketball Wives LA and former wife to NBA All-Star Jayson Williams.
NBA referee Violet Palmer announces she is gay. She’ll be marrying her partner on Friday. http://t.co/M5I9wpb8Kh
— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) July 31, 2014
Despite the fact that Palmer is just now officially announcing her sexual preference, she has not been keeping the information a secret.
If someone asked me, I would tell them. But am I going around with the gay flag posted on my forehead? I didn’t feel like it was necessary. But I never hid it. I think you just get to a certain point in your life where you go, you know what, it doesn’t matter anymore. I think that’s where I am at that point in my life.
Palmer stated that as she became close to officials in the league, they would eventually discover the truth. However, she never wanted to make a big deal of the situation because she did not want it to overshadow her work: ”I always wanted people to just look at my work. Not look at my personal life, not look at my sexual preference. That doesn’t matter. I just wanted people to say, ‘Wow, she is a pretty damn good referee.”’
And a damn good referee Palmer has proven to be over the years. While many may have doubted her skills and aptitude at the beginning of her career, Palmer quickly proved her worth, earning her first appearance in the NBA Playoffs in 2006, nine years after her first game. Palmer also refereed the NBA All-Star game this year.
Good call, Violet Palmer. And I don't say that very often.
— KJ_NBA (@KJ_NBA) July 31, 2014
Initially, Palmer decided to give the NBA a shot because she saw it as a direct challenge to her skills and abilities: “I thought, ‘I don’t know what their [the NBA’s] intention is, but I am going to referee in the NBA. I knew right then. It was just everything about it: the level of play; me being as competitive as I was. And I just knew, I just knew I would be able to do this.”
When people questioned whether she had the gumption to withstand the verbal assaults and antics from professional male athletes, Palmer had one response: “I’m from Compton. I’ve heard worse in the streets.”
This Friday, all Palmer and her partner Stine will hear are cheers from their 130 closest friends as the two get married in a small, close-knit ceremony in Los Angeles – a sound rare to the ears of any NBA official.
Image via YouTube