Advocating for athlete allies

Athlete Ally, as stated on its website, is a “nonprofit organization focused on ending homophobia and transphobia in sports by educating allies in the athletic community and empowering them to take a stand.”

Brought to Washington University by athletes Austin Vanbastelaer, Lizzy Handschy and Lauren Yung, the new club’s first meeting saw an attendance of roughly 70 students, a telling statistic about its necessity on campus.

Athletic environments have not been known as the safest for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Since NBA player Jason Collins came out as gay this past April, the resulting amount of support has also been met with vitriol. According to an April 30 article by the Wall Street Journal, “On Twitter, even as some tweet notes of support, there have also been many online attacks against Collins. ‘Jason Collins #f—’ tweeted one user. Another tweeted, ‘The league ain’t got room for homos.’”

These comments, though more prevalent online than in a person-to-person context, are indicative of a very current and very present homophobic and transphobic culture.

Even at Wash. U., some say that they feel uncomfortable with the atmosphere in the Athletic Complex. On the whole, the culture at the University seems accepting, but that isn’t to say no room for improvement exists. We should always strive to show our acceptance instead of avoiding ongoing concerns. Homophobia and transphobia are not exclusive to violent attacks on people based on their gender identity or sexual orientation—passing comments in the weight room or on the field also qualify. These microaggressions may not be coming from a place of intentional, open hatred, but they can demoralize or drive away LGBT players who feel excluded and targeted. On certain teams, there have not been any openly LGBT players not necessarily because current players would be unaccepting but rather because the sport’s culture historically has been exclusionary. Passing comments of bias reflect that history and deny a safe space for athletes of all identities to explore their passion for sports.

Athlete Ally provides a great opportunity to go beyond passive acts of alliance—like changing your profile picture to an equal sign or sharing a video on YouTube—and confront the problem head-on.

The organization calls on athletes, people going in and out of the AC, and any individuals that witness acts of bias or intolerance and encourages them to fully understand what being an ally means.

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