Jeff Sheng’s Fearless Campaign

This week’s Winning Wednesday is from a founding advisory board member that has been working with Our Group from the beginning.  Jeff Sheng’s unifying Fearless Campaign has been a source of pride for all the members that have been involved and we are proud to support Fearless and Jeff in the current drive to make the full dream a reality.  Read Jeff Sheng’s message to the Our Group community below.

Dear Our Group,

As some of you may know, I am one of the founding advisors for OUR GROUP.  I became involved because of my photo project “Fearless,” a photo series that I began in 2003 about “out” LGBTQ high school and collegiate athletes, and since that time, have photographed over 150 athletes already, some of whom are on the board and active members of OUR GROUP.

What motivates me to continue working on this project, are the stories of high school and college athletes – brave young men and women who are sometimes one of the few “out” people in their entire school, let alone your sports teams.  These are the unheard acts of true heroism and courage, and it highly frustrates me that book publishers don’t see how powerful and important your lives truly are.  It’s why I have to fundraise on my own to self-publish this book, for its 10-year anniversary next year, so that I can finish “Fearless” into a large photo book next year.

As such, I am working on a Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000 which will allow me to self-publish this work next year into a beautiful large photo book featuring their stories, as well as to fund at least 50 more photo shoots to reach a goal of over 200 athletes.  I just launched the drive last weekend, and already have over $5000 pledged.  Nike is sponsoring this drive with some really amazing Nike “Fearless” T-shirts, the same ones they printed for their employees when I exhibited my work on their campus two years ago.  You can read more about the different pledge levels and the gifts associated with them at the links below.  Also, if any of you would like to be part of the series, please let me know.  There is no charge at all to be in it (which is why this fundraising drive is so important).  All I ask is that you do your best to help publicize this so I can reach the $50,000 goal (if the goal isn’t met, then the project isn’t funded by Kickstarter and the shirts don’t get printed etc).

The link to help is here:

 

 

 

Thank you again,

Jeff Sheng

Sacrifice and Sport: How I became an LGBT athlete

Win Chesson, Scott Jordan, David Spires and Sean Smith after a relay at IGLA Championships in Iceland.  (Photo Courtesy of Onesimo Demira).

I’ve spent the night watching the US Olympic Swimming trials as very close friends and some former teammates try to make their Olympic dreams come true.  It’s a moment of forced reflection.  I think of the sacrifices and experiences I made in my career and the lurking question of was it worth it.  Each athlete makes decisions of what is worth it to cut out of their lives to pursue their dream.

Sacrificing small things happens first.  The Friday night movies with friends so you can be awake for Saturday morning practice.  Then you eventually get to the point of ensuring that each piece of your life is contributing to your ultimate goal (diet, sleep, social life, stretching and icing during class, etc.)  In the case of LGBT athletes some are forced to give up an environment that is healthy and accepting through portions of their career.  You see it in the small number of out elite athletes and many will make different arguments.  Are gay and lesbian athletes just not good enough or are they not able to deal with the extra obstacles?  Several people, including myself, would argue that gay and lesbian elite athletes are there, but just not out…yet.

If gay athletes, including those at the elite level, don’t exist then how can you explain the popularity of LGBT sports organizations?  They exist all over the world in different forms.  I’ve been a critic in the past of the segmented LGBT category of sports competitions until I had the experience of competing in some.  I have had the opportunity to compete at the OutGames in 2006, the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatic (IGLA) world championships in 2009 and most recently the IGLA world championships in Reykjavík, Iceland in May.

Obviously the Iceland competition I recently took part in is not the most competitive meet I’ve been to, but why was it so fulfilling?  I asked some athletes that are in Omaha right now for US Olympic Trials and were also at IGLA in Iceland three weeks ago why they felt it was important enough to go to that meet.  Their answer was simple.  “It’s fun, it gives me a sense of community, and I love competing with my teammates!”

For me the unique ingredient to swimming at an IGLA meet is being able to feel whole and authentic.  There is no segmented athlete self that is policing each action to cover or pass as safe or straight.  All of my effort can go in to swimming and to enjoying the social aspects of the meet.  I’ll admit, the social aspects which are obviously a much bigger piece of the experience these days.

What makes me most excited is to think of how we can get the competitions like those in Omaha this week to resemble the competition in Reykjavík three weeks ago in certain aspects.  If we are looking for the best athletes in the world, then let’s make the playing field even for everyone.

Here are some pictures of my experience in Iceland…just for good measure.

–Sean Smith

Communications Director, Our Group Athletes

Image

Sean Smith and David Spires bracing for the Open Water swim in Iceland.  Water temp was 45 degrees Fahrenheit.  Photo courtesy of Charles Ludeke (http://charlesludeke.com/)

Sean Smith finishing the Open Water race.  Photo courtesy of Charles Ludeke (http://charlesludeke.com/)

Several Team New York Aquatics athletes at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.

Sean’s Story

From my earliest memories,  I have always identified as a swimmer.  If my family was the type to have a family photo album it would probably have more snapshots of me donning a speedo than clothes.  I started when I was five years old and the title of swimmer has been my main identifier ever since.  This identity went unchallenged for over fifteen years, through grade school, junior high, high school and I almost made it through college. Continue reading

Anna’s Story

I have been an athlete all my life.  Almost immediately after I transitioned crawling to walking, I was taught how to kick a soccer ball.  For about twelve years I played competitive soccer until, at age 16, I decided to try running instead.  The period in my life when I discovered track and field was also when I discovered I wanted to date girls.  Though I have been an athlete all my life, I didn’t identify myself as bisexual until I was a teenager. Continue reading

Jenelle’s Story


I remember I was 12 years old when I had my first same-sex crush.  I played on a travel soccer team.  The best player on our team happened to be very pretty.  I remember realizing this crush and not knowing what it meant.  I cried hysterically in my room that night thinking, “I can’t be gay!”  My mom came in and asked me what was wrong.  I told her that I thought I had a crush on my teammate.  She sat down and told me that it probably wasn’t a crush, but perhaps I was “jealous” of how good she was or how pretty she was.  My mom then said it was ok and that I should get some rest.  I remember thinking she was wrong. Continue reading

The Internet Era of Athlete Allies

Nearly one year ago, I was featured in an Outsports article as the heterosexual college wrestler who wore Human Rights Campaign stickers on his uniform to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community. That article generated thousands of emails, messages and posts around the world, all commending me for taking a public stance in my capacity as an athlete to support equality, respect and dignity for all. These correspondences were – and still are – indescribably inspiring. They comprise one of the most important parts of my life. Every day, I wake up to a new message or email and look at myself differently in the mirror. I wake up with a profound respect for the impact that the actions of all athletes and coaches can have on others. Continue reading

Our Group

By Pat Griffin

I am honored to be asked to write the first entry in the Our Group Blog. It has been fun to be on the Our Group Advisory Board over the last two years. This new web site and blog promise to add essential voices to the conversation about LGBT issues in sport – the student-athletes themselves. Ever since Andrew Langenfeld had the vision of creating a student-athlete led organization focused on LGBT issues in athletics I have been on board as an enthusiastic supporter. It is clear to me that the younger generation of gay and straight student-athletes is way ahead of their coaches, teachers, and administrators on LGBT issues in general and LGBT issues in sports in particular. The importance of having a national organization of LGBT and straight ally student-athletes who can provide support, resources and information to other student-athletes cannot be overstated. The younger generation of LGBT student-athletes are so much more open and proud and so much more empowered than previous generations were and they are ready to take their place as leaders in the LGBT sports equality movement. They have much to teach the rest of us about welcoming diversity and creating inclusive spaces in athletics. Continue reading