Nike’s First Ever LGBT Sport Summit: How we ALL can become Athletic Champions

Nike’s most famous tagline is “JUST DO IT”, but this Pride weekend their message to athletes was #BE TRUE. Although the LGBT rights movement has gained enourmous momentum in recent years, pervasive homophobia and transphobia within sports keeps many athletes (and potential athletes) on the sidelines. If you are not convinced that this is an issue worth talking about, ask yourself these questions: how many professional LGBT athletes can you name?  Did you know anyone who came out on your sports teams? And most importantly, do children still fear getting bullied or picked on because he/she/ze is perceived to be LGBT?

This month, the sports world made one giant step forward.  At the Nike LGBT Sports Summit in Portland, Oregon, a team of LGBT activists, allies, athletes, coaches, administrators, and media personnel came together to collaborate and create an action plan to make sports more inclusive for LGBT athletes. The team of diverse players represented voices from all over the nation working toward the common goal of ending homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in sport.

(Event co-founders, left to right: Pat Griffin, Helen Carol and Cyd Zeigler)

OutSports.com co-founder, Cyd Zeigler, proposed the ambitious goal of ending homophobia, transphobia, and bullying in sports within 4 years. This may sound like a challenging goal, but as athletes, we know that with great teamwork, teams can achieve the unthinkable.  In order to do this, our team decided we would need to redefine athletic champion.  Continue reading

The LGBT Student Athlete Movement: Recognizing our Past, Present, and Future

Four years ago I was introduced to a strong, honest, and gracious woman.  She inquired into my life as an out LGBT student-athlete at a Division 1 university and continued to listen attentively.  She engaged me in conversation about the history of LGBT athletes and the struggles that such a community has overcome.  She explained that there was still much more to be done.  What she did next was the catalyst of a beautiful journey.
 
In 2008, Pat Griffin put me in contact with two gay male swimmers.  Sean Smith swam at Rutgers and Andrew Langenfeld swam at Purdue. Pat felt that the three of us could coordinate with one another to create initiatives to network with and support fellow LGBT student-athletes.  That fall, Our Group was born.  Over the short years that followed, Our Group has witnessed momentous progress in the sports world regarding LGBT inclusion and equality. 

We have witnessed several professional sport teams and leagues take part in visibility initiatives such as the “It Gets Better” and the “You Can Play” projects.  We have witnessed many more collegiate and high school athletic departments and teams publicly express their acceptance and support of fellow LGBT student-athletes and allies.  

Allies like Hudson Taylor, Ben Cohen, Patrick Burke, and Sean Avery have given younger student-athletes role models on how to be straight, but not narrow.  More importantly, current LGBT student-athletes are coming out and making their voices heard.  For instance, Kye Allums became the first openly transgender man to play on a Division 1 women’s basketball team.  Some even suggest that the sports world may soon witness the first professional LGBT athlete come out before retirement.
 
But now, almost 4 years after Our Group began its mission to find, support, and lead fellow LGBT student-athletes, the sports world will once again witness history. On June 14, 2012, Nike is hosting the first ever LGBT Sports SummitOver 30 different organizations will join together at the Nike Headquarters to coordinate their efforts, refuel their engines, and continue their quest of eliminating homophobia and transphobia from the sports world.
 
Our Group is honored and humbled to be invited to and participate in such a groundbreaking event.  Our Executive Director, Anna Aagenes, will represent Our Group and, hopefully, the thousands of current and former LGBT student-athletes, both out and closeted, that deserve their voices heard and spot at the table.  

We have come so far since 2008, and we want YOU to be a part of this #winning experience with us.  If you feel that Our Group should bring a particular message or issue to address at the summit, please contact us. Because there is only one thing more frightening than speaking our truths: And that is not speaking.
 
With solidarity and liberty,
 
Jenelle DeVits – Director of Finance and Development

Our Group announces #WinningWednesdays

 This is Our Group, Our Teams, and Our Time to tell Our Stories.

Angels’ Howie Kendrick (42) jumps for joy after scoring a game-winning run” Terrill/AP 

We, as athletes, live for #winning moments.  We work night and day in order to win: we sacrifice our precious time, our bodies, and (at times our mental sanity) in order to compete to the best of our abilities.

Although there are times when we lose, the winning moments are the ones that last forever in our hearts and minds. The most exciting winning moments are when we turn a near loss into a win. When a wide-receiver uses her superhuman reach to score the winning touchdown in the final four seconds in the game. When, despite an injury a gymnast gives a flawless performance, and the judges and audience are speechless at his perfect landing on the balance beam.  Those are the moments that live in infamy.

June 2012 marks a great culmination of winning moments. Not only does it mark the celebration of LGBTQ history, it signals an amazing partnership in the world of LGBT Sports. The most symbolic of which is the first ever Nike LGBT Sports Summit being held next week in Portland, Oregon. Our Group, along with 30 other organizations on the forefront of advancing LGBT inclusion in sport, will come together to help create a stronger more effective TEAM in the fight to end homophobia.

In more ways than one, 2012 has brought many moments of #WINNING for the LGBT community: the repealing of DADT, the President of the United States openly supporting equal marriage, and the federal courts declaring DOMA unconstitutional.

Every good team player knows that there are wins and there are losses with every sport.   Try as we may (and as competitive athletes we will try very hard), we can’t win every single match, race, game, or challenge that comes our way, but we will keep trying until we do win.  The battle against homophobia in sports is the same.  Some days, we won’t be able to win every battle, but the more we come together and share our stories, the more powerful our team of athletes and allies will become.

Charlie Sheen shouldn’t be the only one who gets to use the hash tag #winning.  We at Our Group want to reclaim the word to apply to our featured LGBT sports success stories.  We are changing the title of our “share our stories” feature to “#WinningWednesdays” where each Wednesday of the week we will feature a new story from an athlete, fan, coach, or supporter of LGBT acceptance in athletics.

Our stories are about overcoming the impossible….our stories are a chance to share how we can keep on #winning.  Send us your story today for a chance to be featured on Our Group’s #WinningWednesdays.

Good luck and happy writing!
-The Our Group Board of Directors

 

Be sure to keep up with #WinningWednesdays by liking us on facebook and Follow @ourgroupathlete. For more information on how to submit your story, contact us at info@ourgroupathletes.com.

Student-Athlete allies and body building champions demonstrate #winning at the 2011 Mr. and Ms. Penn: (Sean Welleck and Jesse Carlin)

“Standing Out”: Joanna Lohman shares her experiences promoting equal rights and equal treatment in athletics

Joanna Lohman is a Professional Soccer Player for DC United Women and Co-founder of  JoLi Academy LLC, a global soccer initiative starting in India.  She decided to share her story with Our Group not only to promote LGBT inclusion in sports, but most importantly, to “stand out” and stand up for all human rights.

I am an American. I am a woman and I just happen to be a gay.  To end the story there would be an unforgivable slight to my overall personal journey.

My journey as an American woman started from day one, my journey as a gay woman, however, started at the age of 22.  While there were small hints prior to this, it was not until I ended my engagement with a wonderful man, that I truly realized who I was.

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We all have choices in life and some are much more difficult than others.  And while it may seem easier to take the path of least resistance, it’s absolutely not the path that leads to liberated happiness.

When I write stories such as these, I always come back to one of my favorite quotes from Seth Godin of The Purple Cow:

“If you’re remarkable, its likely that some people won’t like you.  That’s part of the definition of remarkable.  Nobody gets unanimous praise – ever.  The best the timid can hope for is to be unnoticed.  Criticism comes to those who stand out.  So we face two choices: to be invisible, anonymous, uncriticized, and safe or take a chance at greatness, uniqueness, and authenticity.”

Continue reading

It DOES Get Better: Encouragement From One Athlete To Another

My name is Jay Hayes. I am a recent graduate of New York University’s Stern School of Business with a BS in Marketing and International Business. I was a member of the Men’s Varsity Volleyball team and captain my sophomore, junior, and senior seasons. I set the records for most sets played in a season (117), most digs in a single match (22), and most digs in a career during the rally-scoring era (786). Amongst all these characteristics that help define me, I’m also gay.

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I have played sports my entire life. My mom played Division I tennis at Purdue University on a full scholarship and was a two-time state champion during her high school career. As a kid, I strived to have a successful athletic career like my mother did. I tried most sports; baseball, basketball, and football before finally finding the sport I knew I could excel at, volleyball.

Growing up in the western Chicago suburb of Naperville, IL, being openly gay sometimes didn’t feel like an attainable lifestyle. I was plagued with fear of coming out, and what the implications of that would be. Not just with my family, but friends and sometimes most importantly, teammates. I knew that when I was presented the opportunity to go to NYU and play volleyball, there was the chance I would find the supportive environment I was so desperately seeking. I also hoped I would be able to come out.

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Patrick Burke’s message to LGBT Athletes

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Patrick Burke (left) with his brother Brendan Burke (right)

In the two years that I have been doing outreach to the athletic community regarding LGBT athletes, fans, and coaches, I have been lucky enough to share the stage with fantastic representatives of the LGBT community: Openly gay coaches, administrators, team captains, record setters, leading scorers, All-Americans, and Olympians. They share their stories to our audience, usually college sports teams, with tremendous openness and honesty. I provide the straight ally’s perspective, which generally consists of me listing all the ways I screwed up before I knew how to treat the LGBT community with respect.

After the second or third “Invisible Athlete Forum”, I began to notice a pattern. At some point during our talks, while I was listing all the mistakes I had made, all of the LGBT athletes would list one universal mistake: “I wish I had given my straight teammates more credit for being accepting.”

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Reflections on the 2012 NCAA Inclusion Forum

(LGBT Sports Panel from left to right: Anna Aagenes, Jeff Ward, Pat Griffin, and Sherri Murrell)

Reflections on the 2012 NCAA Inclusion Forum: My journey from student athlete to LGBT Advocate 
by Anna Aagenes

Former Team Captain at the University of Pennsylvania, Women’s Track and Field Program and former Co-Chair of PATH (Penn Athletes and Allies Tackling Heterosexism and Homophobia)

As someone who never dreamed that she could be both an athlete and “out” as LGBT, this year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Equity and Inclusion Forum has had a special significance for me.  It hit me immediately after I spoke to the audience about my story, a story that years ago, I could not have imagined telling to the NCAA.

In high school, when I came out as bisexual, it seemed impossible to think that I could be a successful athlete and “out” about my sexual orientation.  There were simply no role models for young athletes like myself with dreams of becoming pro athletes. Not only were there no role models, but no one was talking about issues related to being L, G, B, or T on one’s sports team.

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“The longest 4th quarter Ever” by Akil S. Patterson

 Akil S. Patterson, two-time wrestling and  football All-American at the University of Maryland shares his story with our Our Group:

The longest 4th quarter Ever!

Coming out to my parents was easy because over the years they had been prepped while I slowly stood up for LGBT issues around our house. Coming out to my college football team was a different story. I felt segregated by the coaching staff and players. Only one person had my back, a 6’5 white male with red hair and tattoos all over his body. He looked more like the Devil’s son than anything else, but he was a great ally. He lived with me the year before I came out and we bonded over everything, including my sexuality, as long as I didn’t bring boys home. The coaching staff was not hateful but they feared that my sexuality would make others on the team feel uncomfortable. I was asked to live in a nearby town, and to only come on campus for class and football related events. These “provisions” hurt me, but I felt that this was the only way to compete.

 I felt alone and afraid because of what was being asked of me. I hid my life from the world.  I spent much of that time in my one bedroom apartment drunk and alone, waiting for something to pick me up again. As a black man it was even worse because I didn’t have anyone to turn to that looked like me. I lived in the town of Belvenon, Pennsylvania with a population of around 2000 people. I would guess 95% of the people were white and the rest of the town Mixed. I was the lone black male in the apartment I stayed in. There was only one bar and three liquor stores in town. I was lost. Luckily, I found strength as the season wore on in a very unlikely ally. His name was Carl Jay. Carl both loved and feared me because I was as tough as it got on the team. Carl played tackle next to me. Of all of the O-linemen who played with us, Carl was the last person to really accept my sexuality. He hesitated mainly because of the background he came from. He had a single black woman, in the military, raising kids and having boyfriends in and out of his life. Carl was never one to voice his opinions outside of the small group of black folks he chilled with. Carl never said anything to most folks outside of normal college banter. Carl was a kid who had his own issues, but found football by mistake and found that it was paying for his college.

Akil is now an elite-level Greco-Roman wrestler

One day while on the field, Carl and I heard another player on the opposite side of the ball say “you’re the faggot nigger that be raping little boys.” As the words left his mouth, I was so pissed that I planned to beat the hell out of the guy, but Carl beat me to the punch.  On the next play, when the ball was snapped, Carl took the kid for a ride and blocked him to the ground and then began to punch him. This was the first time Carl stuck up for me and I was shocked. He later told me that he saw me as another brother and, although he didn’t understand my lifestyle choice, he respected me for the athlete that I was and the monster that I would always be.

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Calling all college ATHLETES AND ALLIES: Our Group needs YOUR help!

If you are a recent graduate or a current student at a college or university, please help Our Group collect more information on the needs of LGBTQ student athletes and allies. We are undergoing a reorganization of OUR GROUP and want to collect as much feedback as possible on how we can better serve LGBTQ athletes and allies across the nation. This survey is meant for ALL sexual orientations and gender identities (not just LGBTQ) – straight allies are encouraged to participate as well.

The survey takes only 5 minutes, and you are eligible to win a $25 Amazon gift card for your participation!

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/YWMH3LW