Monday, January 7, 2008

Another Week, Another Email from an Angry, Scared Parent

I got another email last week from a mother whose lesbian daughter is being harassed and bullied by her coach because of her sexual orientation. The good news is that more parents are supporting their gay and lesbian children. They expect coaches and teammates to treat their out lesbian and gay kids with respect. They get mad when this is not happening. They want to do something to stop the discrimination, harassment or just plain meanness that is making their child miserable. They don’t want special treatment or to make a big deal. They just want what every other parent wants for their children: they want them to be safe, successful and be happy. So, they write to someone for help. Sometimes this is me.

I thank them for supporting their child. Some parents do not. I give them all the advice about actions they could take that might help them and their child. I identify all the resources I know of that will give them the legal, educational and emotional support they need. I encourage them to stay in touch with me, ask more questions and let me know how things turn out.

Then I get angry. I get angry at the ADs who support coaches who are bigots and bullies. I get angry at coaches who have the power to ruin young people’s athletic dreams and do it so casually. I get angry at teammates who are too intimidated by their coaches or too afraid that someone might think they are gay to support a gay teammate. I get angry at schools, sport governing organizations and coaches associations that are too timid to make or enforce policies that include actual consequences for coaches who bully lesbian and gay athletes (or those they presume are).

Typically, when a parent emails me they tell me that their child wants to handle the situation themselves. They don’t want their parents to intervene. I understand this (and so do the parents), but we worry that the deck is stacked against their child. An athletic department looking the other way, a coach with the power but not the wisdom and teammates who just want to keep their own heads down below the line of fire present formidable obstacles for one young athlete to challenge alone.

I admire the courage and heart that drive these young people to challenge such overwhelming odds for the love of the game. I respect their parents for loving their lesbian and gay children just as they are and for wanting to fight for them when things get tough. I just hate that these young people and their parents have to fight for the right to be treated with dignity and fairness.

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