Playing for the Other Team: Have We Got a Group For You!

By Nell Gelhaus June 26, 2014

Categories: Our Scene, Sports, Stories

Athlete Ally. You Can Play. Athletes for Equality. Go! Athletes. Br{ache the Silence.

“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” Didn’t Mae West say it best?

It is definitely a good thing to have dozens of GLBT-friendly sports oriented support groups popping up across the country – in the big leagues, at college campuses and high schools alike. With so many to choose from, and each with their own focus (and catchy name/slogan), it’s helpful to know the details of who’s who and what’s what.

“But Nell, I don’t have time to do all that research!”

Huh, well, I’m not doing anything at the moment, so allow me. Below are a few groups that might be helpful resources for those with specific areas of interest.

What if I’m a high school or college athlete, struggling with the decision to come out, or looking for peers to share my story with?

GO! (Generation Out) Athletes might be just the organization for you. Founded by a group of GLBT college athletes, GO! Athletes’ primary purpose is to connect GLBTQ student athletes with other GLBTQ athletes and to serve as a united voice to encourage schools to create safe and inclusive environments. They share athlete stories on their website to help students feel empowered to come out and support each other. GO! Athletes has spoken on panels, hosted events and is led by a strong advisory team, including Anna Aagenes, a former Division I athlete, and GO!’s Executive Director.

What if I’m a professional athlete, looking to voice my support for the GLBT community?

Athlete Ally is home to outspoken GLBT allies such as Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo and numerous others. Founded by straight college wrestler Hudson Taylor (who would wear HRC’s Equal logo on his headgear during matches), Athlete Ally’s main focus is educating allies in the athletic community and encouraging them to take a stand. They provide public awareness campaigns and educational programming to foster inclusive sports communities, and mobilize who they refer to as “Ambassadors” at the pro, Olympic and collegiate levels to create supportive environments for GLBT athletes in their specific athletic environments.

What if I’m a high school coach or physical education teacher, searching for resources to assist me in creating a safe space for all student athletes?

Changing The Game: The GLSEN Sports Project (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) is led by Pat Griffin, a well-known GLBT advocate and author. Griffin is Professor Emeritus in the Social Justice Education Program at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst and author of Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sports. The GLSEN Sports Project’s mission is “to assist K-12 schools in creating and maintaining an athletic and physical education climate that is based on the core principles of respect, safety and equal access for all, regardless of sexual orientation of gender identity/expression.” (http://sports.glsen.org) Their website contains numerous downloadable resources and checklists for coaches and educators, as well as a collection of “Game Changers” videos of people who have made an impact in schools across the country.

What if I’m a college athletic director, and I want to be sure our programs are welcoming?

The You Can Play Project has made an impact in colleges and professionals sports organizations with their video series, locally seen at UW-Superior, which promotes the slogan, “If you can play, you can play.” Founded by Patrick Burke, Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman (after the death of Patrick’s gay brother Brendan in a car accident), the Project is now headed by Wade Davis, an openly gay retired NFL cornerback. YCP challenges locker room culture by shifting the focus to each athlete’s skills and work ethic, not their sexual orientation, hence their mantra. Information on how to make a video at your university can be found on their website, with close to a hundred examples from participatory programs for inspiration.

Br{ache the Silence is another organization devoted to offering training and workshops that focus on best practices and policy recommendations to assist administrators in supporting student athletes and colleagues. Co-founders Nevin Caple and Colleen McCaffrey offer ideas for campus initiatives, diversity consulting and a platform for public awareness, and includes links to the NCAA publication “The Champions of Respect: Inclusion of GLBTQ Student-Athletes and Staff in NCAA Programs.”

There are many more. The NCLR Sports Project run by national championship basketball coach Helen Carroll, Project I Am Enough by transgender athlete Kye Allums, HRC’s Athletes for Equality, the Federation of Gay Games, the Stand Up Foundation, GForce Sports – the list goes on and on. Many of these organizations have come together to form the LGBT Sports Coalition, which recently held the 3rd Annual LGBT Sports Summit, sponsored by Nike and their #BeTrue campaign, in Portland, Oregon.

Anna Aagenes, of Go! Athletes, was one of many who attended. “We had an incredible group of “game-changers” attend this year’s Nike LGBT Sports Summit and it felt as though everyone left Portland more inspired and more committed to advancing the LGBT sports equality movement than they did before the Summit. Though I was thrilled to return for a third year and represent GO! Athletes, the best part of the Summit was seeing how many more powerful young people are involved in our movement. Their voices and their stories are changing the sports world for coaches, students, and fans who are looking for acceptance and a truly equal playing field.”

Mae West would find that wonderful, indeed.

One Response to Playing for the Other Team: Have We Got a Group For You!

  1. Pat Griffin says:

    For college coaches, athletes and administrators the NCAA Inclusion Office has published a resource called Champions of Respect which can be downloaded at NCAA.com

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