Student athletes are stepping up to the plate, so to speak, to take a stand for LGBT equality. We’ve written here before about the Athlete Ally program, designed to empower athletes to use their platform as a team, as role models, and as peers, to welcome all participants in athletics, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Athlete Ally program works to overturn anti-gay stereotypes and myths from the world of sports and gives athletes a chance to be a part of the solution. Each ally is asked to sign a pledge:
I pledge to lead my athletic community to respect and welcome all persons, regardless of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Beginning right now, I will do my part to promote the best of athletics by making all players feel respected on and off the field.
The Athlete Ally program has continued to build steam, in large part because of the students who take on the powerful role of leaders in their community and speak out to make their campuses safe for all students. Recently, Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., became the first Athlete Ally Ambassador School in the Northwest Conference. On the decision to implement the Athlete Ally program on campus, the college writes, “For better or worse, athletes are role models.” The two students who brought the program to campus, Alice Minor and Matt Rowett, are adamant that it should be for the better, “Athletes have a lot of influence on campus, so it’s the perfect place for the program to start. It’s important for athletes to be leaders,” said Minor.
Students like Rowett and Minor are what make this kind of change possible. The students were encouraged by a supportive athletic department and administration, but at the core of it, Rowett explains, “This partnership was made possible by students. This program would have never taken hold without the general support of the student community.” Athletic Director Dean Snider went on to say, “The student body is very sharp and open to all backgrounds. But by adopting Athlete Ally we will make sure conversations about the issue will be taking place at Whitman."
The Whitman article addresses head-on the issues at the heart of the Athlete Ally program, “A locker room seems like the last place for a progressive campaign like Athlete Ally to form. After all, it’s a closed off place, an athlete’s sanctuary where jokes and hard language flourish.” And it’s because of that, Rowett says, “Whitman’s varsity athletes need to take positive action to eliminate homophobia in the locker room, on the field, on the court or in the water. As leaders we can be part of these first essential steps in changing this sports culture, starting at the very basic level of being conscious of what is said in the locker room.”
Students like Rowett and Minor, and the thousands of others who have taken the pledge to be an Athlete Ally, are a vital part to creating real change for LGBT equality. They are taking an active role in changing the conversation about equality in sports. As Minor reflects on advances in the athletic world as part of a broader goal for LGBT equality she makes the argument for breaking down any remaining barriers stating, “I want everyone to feel like they are part of the same community.”
GLAAD applauds the students of Whitman College for demonstrating leadership and moving important conversations about LGBT equality into the locker room. They are joining a growing chorus of athletes raising their voices for LGBT equality with the Athlete Ally program.