Tuesday, May 27, 2008

LGBTQ Athletes Are Doin’ It For Themselves

It seems like forming LGBT student-athlete groups is an idea whose time has finally come. Times have changed enough and there are enough openly gay collegiate athletes so that groups are beginning to spring up at schools around the country.

I tried to start one at UMass back in the 80’s. It was all women. We met in the basement of my house around a wood stove and ate cookies and drank coke while everyone talked about what it was like for them to be a lesbian on their teams. None of them were publicly out and none of them were interested in being publicly out at that point in their lives. We were strictly a support group. We met a few times and then the school year ended and so did the group. What I learned was that the lesbian athletes had their own closeted social network within athletics with athletes from several teams, plus non-athlete friends who all partied together. They were not ready for activism or challenging homophobia in the athletic department.

I worked with some other UMass staff and an athlete again about five years ago to start another group, which we called a gay-straight athlete alliance. We had a web site and everything. We met a few times and then the school year ended, the athlete who was the driving force behind the group graduated and the group stopped meeting.

In 2002 two student-athletes at the University of Pennsylvania, Paul Farber (track) and Karrie Moore (lacrosse)started a group called PATH - Penn Athletes and Allies Tackling Homophobia. This group is still active as far as I know. It is listed as a resource on the Penn LGBT center web page. They sponsor discussions, panels, social events for LGBT athletes and allies. PATH was a student-athlete initiated group that has had some good success on their campus.

I know of similar groups recently organizing at Vassar College and Purdue University. It makes sense. More LGBTQ athletes are out and looking for support, resources and ways to challenge homophobia in athletics. I’ve learned by working with athletes and coaches that the athletes are waaay ahead of their coaches on this topic. I believe that LGBTQ student-athletes and their straight teammates who are allies are the ones who will change sport more than one or two professional athletes coming out ever can.

Andrew Langenfeld is a swimmer on the Purdue team and he is gay. Andrew is not satisfied with just starting an LGBTQ student-athlete group at Purdue. He has a plan for developing a national network of LGBTQ athletes and hopes to organize a “summit” of interested athletes to develop this network. Andrew has contacted me, Mac Chinsomboon from the Gay and Lesbian Athletic Foundation, Ted Rybka from the GLAAD Sports Desk, among others, to seek advice and assistance with his vision. The page he has put up on Facebook for the group has already quadrupled in numbers. Andrew has organized a steering committee of men and women athletes who are working with him to make this network happen.

I think this is so cool. I’m getting to the age now where I sometimes feel like the student-athletes I talk to must look at me as if it’s their old dyke grandmother talking to them about homophobia. I guess this is not all bad, dyke grandmothers do have a long range perspective on things, but I think peer-initiated activism and leadership is so powerful and important. Andrew is taking that leadership and he has some incredible ideas. I just hope ol’ granny can help him to make them a reality.

Are you a coach, athlete or staff member in athletic department? Do you know of student-athletes who would be interested in working with Andrew or starting an LGBTQ student-athlete group at your school? If so, let me know, Granny Griffin can connect you with the resources and people to join a very exciting movement.

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