In honor of Black History Month GLAAD is highlighting the roles African Americans have played in the advancement of LGBT rights. Recently, GLAAD spoke with basketball player and transgender advocate Kye Allums.
Kye made headlines in November of 2010 when he became the first transgender man to play Division I basketball while attending George Washington University. Kye Allum's decision to come out as transgender while playing basketball and his continued efforts to advance LGBT rights in athletics prove him as a pioneer in the LGBT community.
GLAAD spoke with Kye about his experiences as a transgender, African American athlete and what advice he would give to youth who are also LGBT athletes.
Elliott Moore: Could you discuss your experience playing basketball at George Washington prior to coming out as transgender and could you expand on what the experience was like coming out as transgender to your team?
Kye Allums: It was good and bad, I had a very supportive team, the environment that my coaches created made it easy for me to feel I could come out and say who I am. When I came out publicly that’s what was difficult, the media made it difficult for my teammates and my coach. That placed stress on me and my team. If you place the media aside my experience of coming out was very positive. My teammates were very supportive and they used appropriate pronouns so they were always good.
EM: Can you compare this to the experience with opposing teams/fans after coming out as transgender?
KA: You would probably think it would have been negative. The most negative experience was actually the people in the stands staring and pointing. Nobody on the other teams said anything negative to me. They were just focused on keeping me from scoring and they never said anything negative me on the court.
EM: Do you feel growing up playing basketball later affected your decision to transition?
KA: It didn't really affect my decision at all.
EM: How do you think the media attention that you received after coming out as transgender affected your ability to play and focus on basketball?
KA: Then I would have told you the media didn’t influence or affect me at all. But it did. It stressed me out, I was so stressed out. It was a lot of attention on me. I felt I couldn’t even walk outside because I felt someone would recognize me. I'd never experienced something like that before. All I wanted to do was focus on basketball and I felt I couldn’t do that. The media attention I received made me have to try even harder to tune everything out to focus on school and basketball.
EM: Can you discuss what you have done, post-collegiate basketball, to enhance and further transgender awareness and rights?
KA: I have been traveling to high schools sharing my story, educating people on being trans, starting conversations that nobody wants to talk about, I'm just trying to show people that it is possible to play with a trans person on your team, it is possible to have a trans student, you teach them like anyone else, attack everything ahead first, put myself in situation where I can speak to ignorant or bully people and I've found that people want to learn and that just because someone is ignorant doesn’t mean that they will never understand.
EM: Do you think that division I basketball is ready for a transgender athlete or that it will happen any time in the near future?
KA: Yeah for sure, I think that the environment in division I sports for it is ok.
EM: Do feel your identity as a trans African American man affected how media told your story? Do you feel that race played a role in how they asked you question?
KA: I think that they felt they could ask me anything because that was the type of presence that I bring, I am a very open person. The reporters would say, "wow you make it so easy to talk to you, you make it so easy to ask you any questions". I don’t know, that’s a hard question. I'll have to think about it.
EM: How would you advise the media to interact with a trans athlete?
KA: When you talk with trans athletes the discussion needs to be about sports. How many points I made, my rebounds, we should talk about what I'm doing on the court. There is no need to talk about, "am I taking hormones? Am I getting surgery?" That’s a confidential matter, but it's still being handled. The NCAA would not allow someone to be on a team if they didn’t take the proper steps to allow them to play. If you are trying to educate the world then ask "is it alright if I ask you a question about hormones or surgery?" Nobody asked me those questions, so what does that have to do with basketball? You should keep it sports related.
EM: Do you feel being an LGBT athlete is different in the black community and what affect does that have?
KA: Being black is not a privilege in this world, it is so easy to be hard on yourself. I often feel that I have to try twice as hard just because of the color of my skin. They think I'm not educated or smart or I don’t have money or a job just because of the color of my skin. And then you say "I'm gay" on top of that. It just seems like oppression on top of oppression on top of oppression. It just stems from how society is. It's easy to feel pressure, what do I have to do to be considered white, smart, not at the bottom of the pile. Being trans, black and an athlete I kind of just want to take everything one at a time. If I'm attracted to someone, I'm attracted to someone and that’s it. If I'm playing a sport I focus on my sport. If I'm black that’s my race, that’s an everyday, every moment thing. But, by surrounding myself with so many strong and powerful people, it allowed me to keep being myself and still focus on sports.
EM: Do you have any advice that you would give to a young LGBT athlete of African descent.
KA: If I were to give anyone advice who was a black, LGBT athlete, surround yourself with people who care about you, focus on your sport and never bring LGBT issues with you on the field. Who you are and the color of your skin, own it. Be proud of who you are.