Camille LeNoir thought she’d landed a dream job last year, an entryway into the competitive world of coaching college basketball.
She was a former player herself, having starred at the University of Southern California. The WNBA’s Washington Mystics made her a second-round draft pick and she played the game professionally overseas. But since her playing days ended, LeNoir had focused on working with young players. She was excited when her former college coach offered her an assistant position on his staff at New Mexico State University.
She accepted the job, but two days before she was to board a plane for New Mexico, LeNoir’s phone rang. The Aggies’ coach, Mark Trakh, had watched an online video posted in 2011 in which LeNoir discussed her playing career, her religious faith and her sexuality.
For most of her basketball career, LeNoir identified as gay. Now she’s not. In fact, in the video, she said homosexuality was “wrong” and “not worth losing your soul over.”
Trakh retracted the job offer, LeNoir said, and advised her to remove the video if she ever wanted to work in college basketball. LeNoir said she was devastated. She felt she could be an effective coach regardless of what she’d said in that video. And besides, LeNoir figured, hadn’t she already accepted the position?
“I felt the job was taken away because of my heterosexuality,” LeNoir, 31, said in a recent interview.
LeNoir is suing New Mexico State in U.S. District Court, saying she was discriminated against because of her religious beliefs and sexual identity. New Mexico State acknowledges in court filings that Trakh rescinded the offer but denies any discrimination charges. A federal judge in California allowed the lawsuit to move forward and will preside over a unique case that spans sport, religion and sexuality, and provides a small window into the culture surrounding women’s basketball.
In court filings, New Mexico State says that LeNoir’s feelings about homosexuality shared in the video “would have had an adverse impact” on her “ability to effectively coach and recruit players who identify as LGBT.”
A spokesman for New Mexico State declined to comment on LeNoir’s allegations. Trakh, 62, left New Mexico State in April to return to USC. A school spokesman there said he was unable to comment for this story, citing the pending litigation.
There are no reliable figures available about the percentage of female basketball players or coaches who identify as gay. Candice Wiggins, Stanford’s career scoring leader who played for four WNBA teams, made headlines earlier this year when she said that 98 percent of the players in the WNBA are gay and that she was targeted for abuse because she was not.
“People were deliberately trying to hurt me all of the time. I had never been called the B-word so many times in my life than I was in my rookie season,” Wiggins told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I’d never been thrown to the ground so much. The message was: ‘We want you to know we don’t like you.’”
Wiggins’s comments drew sharp rebuke across the league.
For her part, LeNoir says she never felt pressure to be gay. She’s identified as straight for the past seven years and she’s convinced she could effectively coach players from all backgrounds, if given the chance.
“I have not left the basketball world. I know what the culture is like, and that has never affected how I am as a teacher, as a person,” she said. “I love everybody.”
When she was 7 years old, LeNoir fell in love with basketball. “Since then it’s been a very integral part of my life,” she said. “It’s taken me around the world. It’s taught me so many different things.”
She was a high school star and helped her USC team to two NCAA tournament appearances, scoring more than 1,000 points during her Trojans career from 2004 to ’09. She failed to stick with the Mystics but was one of the top guards in Greece for the two years she played professionally there. For her, basketball was a passion and a lifestyle.
When she was 16, a junior in high school, she began dating women. Her first relationship was with a fellow basketball player.
“For me, it was environmental,” she said. “It was emotional connections and attachments that I had in the two relationships that I was in.”
Throughout her college career, she identified as a lesbian. During her time in Greece, she says she spent more time reading the Bible and increasingly struggled to reconcile her sexuality with her Christian beliefs. For LeNoir, her sexuality was never an easy issue. It caused her to lie and hide things from family members, she said.
“It was tough. I ended my last relationship [and] I was in love. There was nothing that went wrong in that relationship,” she said. “And so it was just a constant wrestling with what I know the Bible says, my family says and my emotions. And so I got to the point where, like, I’m choosing this over that.”
It was mostly a private matter. But during her final year in Greece, she agreed to do an interview over Skype with Christopher Hudson of the Forerunner Chronicles, a Christian organization that made headlines with its interview of Angus Jones, the former child star who quit the CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” calling it “filth” and saying, “You cannot be a true God-fearing person and be on a television show like that.”
LeNoir’s interview was uploaded to YouTube with the title “Sports, Fame, & Fornication” and has been viewed 65,000 times.
“Well, I’m Camille LeNoir, from Los Angeles, Calif.,” she began. “I’m not that tall. I’m 5-4. I’ve been playing ball since I was 7, probably was the same height back then.”
The two went on to discuss her sexual orientation, her relationship with God and advice she would give others who identify as gay, as she had for the previous seven years.
“I would say, it’s not worth it,” she said. “If you are in a same-sex relationship, it is not worth losing your soul. Whoever you’re in that relationship with, like the Lord told me, it will be the death of you. I just believe that you can overcome it. You can overcome and defeat sin.”
“If you believe something that you were born gay or homosexual or whatever — if you feel you were born that way — I would say that you weren’t. God wouldn’t create you homosexual, then say in the Bible that it’s wrong, and then send you to hell. He doesn’t operate like that.”
In court filings, both sides agree that the video cost LeNoir the coaching opportunity. The school echoed LeNoir’s contention that Trakh told her the video “would make it difficult for Plaintiff to find a job in women’s college basketball.”
“I never had a chance to talk to anyone, to share,” LeNoir says today. “It’s like they took this video and the fact that I’m heterosexual now and made decisions without getting to know the Camille six years later.”
New Mexico State has denied any discrimination took place and says that Trakh wasn’t in position to extend a job offer in the first place. In court filings, New Mexico State says the offer “was made without the knowledge or approval of any other employee or agent of NMSU” and that the coach was “required to post the position and go through NMSU’s standard recruitment process.”
LeNoir said she has no doubt the Aggies’ job offer was real. She said she and Trakh agreed on responsibilities and salary. The two have known each other for years — Trakh was her coach at USC and started recruiting LeNoir when she was 16. They remained friendly after her college career ended.
According to LeNoir, Trakh, who has been a head coach at three schools, totaling 22 years, agreed to cut his own salary by $5,000 to sweeten the offer and entice her to move. They’d already discussed some things she could work on immediately, including identifying potential recruits and studying video of the Aggies.
She accepted the job offer on April 24, 2016, and, according to court filings, Trakh texted her: “I’m soooo excited and happy Camille!” He invited her to New Mexico that same week, but two days later Trakh called and rescinded the offer.
“I’m asking him, ‘Mark, can you please just tell me why? What is the reason?’ I never got an answer,” she said. “He just said take down the video — ‘take down the video or you’ll never be able to work in this industry.’”
LeNoir says she was under the impression that the job would be available to her if she embraced homosexuality again. She said the coach asked her whether she still believed the things she said in the video.
“So I shared with him that I did, and that I was no longer in that lifestyle,” she said. She said Trakh told her “the fact that I’m no longer homosexual would affect recruiting.”
There’s only one part of the video LeNoir says she doesn’t agree with today. In it, she called sports “evil,” complaining about “idol worship, greed, the level of money, the hatred, the envy.”
“Everything that Jesus preached from the Sermon on the Mount contradicts everything the sports atmosphere promotes,” the 23-year-old LeNoir said. “Everything.”
But she said Trakh never questioned her on that part. “It was all about my sexuality,” she said.
LeNoir still runs her business, True Point Guard, training young players and serves as an assistant coach at a Roman Catholic high school in the Los Angeles area. While she knows her immediate job prospects might be impacted in the coaching world, LeNoir said she felt she had little choice but to pursue a lawsuit.
“I believe it was an injustice,” she said, “a huge injustice.”