Violet Palmer made her biggest call yet: The NBA referee will marry her partner of 20 years.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Palmer says she came out to her fellow NBA referees in 2007. She has not tried to keep her sexuality a secret from the league since that time.
“This is actually the big formal coming out,” Palmer said. “We are saying to the world, to everyone, here’s my wife of 20 years. This is the big coming out.”
Palmer will marry celebrity hair stylist Tanya Stine today in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be officiated by “Basketball Wives LA” star Tanya Young Williams, the ex-wife of former NBA All-Star Jayson Williams.
Palmer broke barriers in 1997 when she became the first female to referee an NBA game. Under scrutiny from her first tipoff, Palmer instantly proved she could withstand the grumbling that comes with forging a career in a men’s game. She was no publicity gimmick and has since officiated postseason games and the 2014 All-Star Game over a lengthy career.
Palmer said she had been open about her sexual orientation in the NBA for years. There was never a formal public coming out because she didn’t want it to overshadow her work on the court.
“I always wanted people to just look at my work,” she said in a phone interview. “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.’ ”
Palmer said she didn’t initially reveal her sexuality to the NBA while working her way through the ranks, but eventually came out to her fellow referees about dating Stine.
Despite the additional scrutiny likely heaped on a gay referee, Palmer said she believed she still would have been hired by the NBA in 1997 had she said she was gay. She said she didn’t make a conscious effort to keep quiet, she just didn’t feel adding the information was necessary.
Palmer, who turned 50 in July, said she knew around her middle school years she was a lesbian. She didn’t come out to her parents until she was an adult.
“If someone asked me, I would tell them,” she said. “… I never hid it. I think you just get to a certain point in your life where … it doesn’t matter anymore.”