On April 26, I invited to campus Helen Carroll, director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Sports Project, which combats homophobia and transphobia in sports through litigation and policy work. To accompany research I had conducted on the student-athlete experience for my senior anthropology thesis, I wanted to give back to the community in a meaningful way. It was fitting to get athletics involved in the Gaypril celebrations this month by staging a discussion on LGBT inclusion at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer.
The visibility of LGBT student-athletes is rather small, based off my research. That is not to say that a community does not exist, but rather that because its visibility is so low, we student-athletes are not as sensitive to the topic as we ought to be.
Helen facilitated a workshop for CMS and P-P coaches, where they discussed coaches’ role in creating a team culture of respect and inclusion for LGBT athletes. Helen and I also spoke at Claremont McKenna College’s Athenaeum for a lunch presentation to over 80 people, with attendance from students, staff, faculty and administrators from across the 5Cs.
Following her remarks, we took questions from the audience. Questions covered transgender rights, the prevalence of a stagnant gender binary in sports, and concrete action items for students hoping to create a more inclusive culture on their teams.
Due to an anticipated low turnout, I cancelled the student-athlete workshop that would have addressed the latter request for specific action items that evening. While we laid a foundation for tackling these issues with coaches and administration and prompted self-reflection among attendees of the Athenaeum event, I realize that the opportunity for CMS and P-P student athletes to change the sports culture is still open for future discussions. This is a good thing.
Based off of many conversations I’ve had with members of the 5C community, we offer the following behaviors that student-athletes can take to cultivate a more inclusive climate for LGBT teammates.
First, understand that language matters. Coaches and team leaders should set the tone and expectation in the beginning of the year for their commitment to a welcoming and inclusive culture. It’s up to team members to hold each other accountable.
Don’t just assume that everyone on your team is straight. If you simply assume that at least one member of your team is LGBT, you can avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable by asking the question and you will be more conscious of the language you use around your teammates on and off the court and in the locker rooms.
Second, be an active bystander. As someone committed to LGBT inclusion, you may want to know exactly how you’re being homophobic so you can change yourself, but you may not actually be the problem. Maybe it’s your friends who don’t realize the threatening environment they’re creating. Correct and educate them. Help them see what you see, because if you don’t stand up, who will?
Third, reinstate the 5C Queer Athlete Group. Yes, this group used to exist just a couple of years ago, but the club graduated with its most dedicated leader. Some people may fear that joining LGBT clubs will out them before they are ready or that joining as an ally will send an inaccurate message. However, a group like this would provide a space where identifying students can find support, community and access to resources specific to student-athletes. And if you really consider yourself an ally or a friend, you will attend their open events to support your teammates.
Finally, keep having conversations like these. Keep challenging yourself to make your teammates’ experience better by becoming aware of your own prejudices. The Student-Athlete Advisory Committees should be comprised of diverse members, and discussions on diversity and inclusion should be agenda items at meetings. CMS Student Athlete Advisory Comittee meets twice a month, which is sufficient time to keep these topics relevant and to revisit them throughout the year.
This list is just a start, and I will admit that I do not have all of the answers. With that being said, I hope workshops and speakers like Helen return again next fall. I hope CMS and P-P administration continue to find ways to make their athletic programs more inclusive (which they will). And I hope these conversations about the visibility and treatment of LGBT student-athletes continue to happen among you returning Stags, Athenas, and Sagehens.