Monday, February 2, 2009

Creating Change in Athletics

I just returned from Denver and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference (They’ve been calling the conference this since way before President Obama made change a buzz word). Helen Carroll from the NCLR Sports Project and I presented a session at the conference on LGBT issues in athletics. I am pretty sure we were the only session at the conference focused on sports. We had a group of 30-35 participants in our session. Most were folks who work in collegiate settings, many as Campus LGBT Center Directors. We also had some high school folks as well as community activists and educators.

Helen and I gave our take on the “state of athletics” with regard to LGBT issues highlighting some of the areas of progress and areas where we see particular challenges. We also described several ways in which the Sports Project and It Takes A Team collaborate in addressing LGBT issues in athletics. We were fortunate to have Jeff Sheng of the Fearless Campus Tour in attendance. We invited Jeff to talk about his amazing photography exhibit of LGBT athletes which he is going to publish as a book. Sean Smith of Our Group, the student-athlete LGBT and allies group, was also there and he provided the group with information about Our Group.

A few of the LGBT Center Directors who were there informed the group about efforts on their campuses that they are initiating to address LGBT issues in athletics. I am especially happy to hear about these efforts and hope that It Takes A Team can support more LGBT Centers to develop programming specifically for athletics. To that end, I gave away 50 It Takes A Team DVDs and a bunch of ITAT posters and safe space stickers at the session. My only stipulation was that the DVDs have to end up in the hands of folks who will use it – PFLAG parents, GLSEN local chapters, school counselors, LGBT Centers, and so on. No DVDs gathering dust on someone’s shelf, please.

One of my goals is to eliminate the divide between athletics and the LGBT Center at so many schools. I often hear people talk about how few student-athletes come to the LGBT Center and how some LGBT Center directors find it challenging to find allies in athletics who will support programming on LGBT issues.

The folks who are doing this work on campus who attended the session had some great ideas and examples of successful programming that they shared with the group. In the coming months, I’m planning to invite some of these folks to talk about what they do in interviews we’ll post on the It Takes A Team web site. Maybe their stories will inspire other non-athletic staff to do more work with athletics.

It takes a team (I know this is hokey, but what the hey) made up of lots of people from lots of different places to make sport a welcoming place for LGBT people. Thanks to all the folks who are doing just that and here’s an invitation to others to think about how you could work with an athletic department in a school where you work or in a school in your community. If you are interested, contact me. We’ll talk.

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