Monday, January 14, 2008

A Big Day at the NCAA

I was at the NCAA convention this weekend in Nashville. I helped plan a panel discussion at the conference called “Time Out! A Conversation about Including LGBT Student-Athletes.” It was definitely a two step forward day in the journey toward social justice in collegiate athletics. I worked with Charlotte Westerhaus, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at the NCAA to pull this event together. We had a terrific panel of John Amaechi, gay former NBA player and fabulous spokesperson for social justice in sport; Laurie Priest, out lesbian Athletic Director at Mount Holyoke College and amazing leader in women’s sport (plus she’s darn cute); and Neil Giuliano, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and former mayor of Phoenix, Arizona. The moderator was Jill Pilgrim, general counsel for the LPGA and, may I say, she set a new standard for me the next time I am asked to moderate a panel.

What made this event so terrific (besides the fact that it happened at all?) Several things:

• It was a great example of what good can come of collaborations between an LGBT education and advocacy organization (It Takes A Team!) and a sport governing organization (the NCAA) to address homophobia in athletics
• The quality of the panel discussion. John, Laurie and Neil were terrific: insightful, personal, funny and knowledgeable. Jill, as I said, was amazing as she directed questions to the panel and also contributed her own perspectives as a heterosexual ally
• The attendance. There were 150-200 people in the room (I’m terrible at estimates like this, but the room was full and it was a big room. I remember doing sessions like this at sport conferences years ago when the only people in the room were a few brave lesbians who believed they were risking their professional reputations by coming into the room.
• The diversity of attendees. This audience included women and men, straight folk and LGBT folk, white folk and folk of color, young people and older folk, coaches, athletic directors and student-athletes.
• Attendees were looking for resources and information: I had an It Takes A Team! resource table outside the room with our DVDs, posters, safe space stickers and a handout on guidelines for addressing LGBT issues in athletics. My goal was to make sure that the table was bare by the end of the panel. Every resource I had with me was taken and I got to go home empty handed. Plus, about 30 people signed up for the It Takes A Team monthly eletter. Contrast this with resource tables I’ve “womaned” in years past at these kind of conventions: People gave me and the table a such a wide berth as soon as they saw the words “lesbian” and “gay” that you’d think talking to a gay person or taking the resources would cause you to be gay (or make others think you were gay)
• National LGBT advocacy organizations like GLAAD are getting on board to help in the fight against homophobia in sport. GLAAD has a new sports desk headed by Ted Rybka, who I met at the panel. I see lots more collaboration ahead between It Takes A Team! and GLAAD.
• Last, but not least, as I sat listening to the panel with my good friend and colleague, Helen Carroll of the NCLR Sports Project, I realized that we are not in this alone anymore. There was a time when I felt like a voice in the wilderness trying to call attention to LGBT issues in sport. On Saturday, Helen and I got to be audience members and appreciate how far we have come and how many organizations and amazing individual people are signing on to address LGBT issues in sport.

Definitely a two step forward day to savor, especially when the one step back days come, as I am sure they will. Thank you, NCAA, Charlotte Westerhaus, Jill Pilgrim, John Amaechi, Laurie Priest and Neil Giuliano for a great day. I smiled all the way home.

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