Wrestler Hudson Taylor a Champion for Gay Rights

University of Maryland star has even worn a gay rights sticker during competition. He calls LGBT rights 'a pressing issue.'

When Hudson Taylor proposed to Lia Alexandra Mandaglio, it was fitting that it was the same night they saw the movie "Milk." The story about a pioneering gay rights advocate meant a lot to the couple.

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Hudson Taylor is ranked 3rd in the nation in his weight class. (Photo courtesy of Amateur Wrestling Photos).
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Taylor proposed to Lia Alexandra Mandaglio the same night they saw "Milk."

Back at Mandaglio's condominium in Washington DC, Taylor, a University of Maryland wrestler, presented her with a signed edition of Martin Luther King's book "Why We Can't Wait." She didn't wait, and said yes. They will be married on Sept. 24, 2011.

"The proposal is a big event not to be taken lightly," Taylor said. "We're both very progressive and very outspoken in LGBT and feminist issues." The book "symbolized how we felt and how we would act," and was "very fitting for the engagement."

Being outspoken and passionate is nothing new for Taylor, 36-2 this season and ranked No. 3 in the country in the 197-pound NCAA wrestling weight class. In addition to being a champion wrestler, he is an academic All American with his eye on law school and a possible future political career.

It's his outspoken support for gay rights, though, that makes him unique in the athletic world, where straight allies are few and far between. Not many athletes would wear a Human Rights Campaign sticker on their headgear in competition.

"For me and my generation, [LGBT rights] is a pressing issue," said Taylor, 23, a native of New Jersey. "I believe that whatever history I'm a part of, I'm responsible for. If I feel something is unjust or unequal, I feel a responsibility to do something about it."

Taylor puts his money where his views are, donating each month to HRC, a leading gay rights organization. But his greatest impact is trying to counteract the aura of homophobia that pervades sports. He does this by bringing up gay rights in media interviews and discussing the issue with teammates, despite the discomfort it might bring. He was brought to the attention of Outsports by a gay former University of Maryland athlete who knows and respects Taylor.

"It's tough being a college athlete," Taylor says. "Guys like to bring each other down and use hurtful words. But I think you need to be conscious of your thoughts, words and actions."

While few sports are very gay-tolerant, wrestling can sometimes be even less so because of the stereotypes surrounding the sport. Its athletes wear skin-tight singlets and opponents literally grab and embrace each other in close contact, each trying to dominate the other, so "outsiders could see it as being a homoerotic sport," Taylor said. The result is that wrestlers "often need to reaffirm to others their quote, unquote, ‘masculinity,' and to show and strut their bravado."

While Taylor spoke positively about his teammates, he will challenge them if he hears language demeaning of gays. "A common way to degrade a teammate is to call them a ‘fag,' " said Taylor, who hesitated even saying the word in our interview. "This is not unique to wrestling, but a common discourse for many male sports teams. It's important to address it publicly and say something in front of the team."

As captain and a fifth-year senior, Taylor has status on the team to be heard. But he says he often has a bigger impact with younger teammates than with his peers, whom he fears sometimes roll their eyes when he starts in on gay rights talk, saying it's just Hudson. There are, though, those breakthrough moments when he and a teammate will have a meaningful dialogue and "I think I make a difference."

HRC on the mat

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Taylor wore an HRC sticker during matches.

His gay rights advocacy has its limits, though, as he discovered when he started wearing the HRC logo, with its yellow equal sign on a blue background, during competition earlier this season. He never heard anything from an opponent, figuring they didn't know what the logo stood for (and were too busy wrestling to worry about it). But it did cause trouble with his teammates, who told him things like, "don't wear that shit," and "save your statements for off the mat."

Taylor reluctantly stopped wearing the HRC logo after a month, but said the decision was "really difficult for me." He complied with his teammates' wishes, because "after a while it felt like it was taking away from my wrestling and people were more concerned about my statements than by my [performance]. ... I feel bad not wearing it." After his wrestling career ends this March at the NCAAs and his activist period starts in earnest, though, "it's world watch out," he says.

His passion for gay rights is borne more out of righting a wrong than of having a lot of gay friends. The two maids of honor for the wedding are lesbians in a relationship, but he said he does not have a close gay male friend. He also does not know of any gay collegiate wrestlers (though he has heard some names) and said he was not sure if a gay wrestler would be accepted. When he gave an interview to a wrestling website that mention his passion for gay rights, he was labeled gay on a discussion forum.

Family history

Taylor's zeal for causes is steeped in his genes. He was born Hudson Taylor IV, and comes from a long line of missionaries. One ancestor, James Hudson Taylor, was among the first Christian missionary in China in the mid-1800s. His parents are both strong Christians and there has been "a lot of pressure to be a person of faith," Taylor says. While he has philosophical disagreements with his parents over religion, they did instill in him a strong sense of inclusion over exclusion.

But he and his parents don't see eye to eye on some issues, and this even initially extended to Taylor and Mandaglio's decision on what their last name will be once they are married. This is how he explained their thought process in an e-mail:

My fiancée [a law student] and I are feminists and have a pretty significant problem when it comes to taking a last name. A lot of contemporary couples keep their own last names, which is great and something we are considering. But, we want to have the same name. We could hyphenate them. But, our surnames are our fathers' surnames, and their fathers' surnames, and their fathers' surnames etc.

Even if we decided to take our mother's maiden names, we'd still be operating in a patrilineal naming system. We find it pretty disturbing that male names have been "labeling" people for hundreds of years. Matrilineal surnames and non-sex-based surnames don't really exist. So, we decided to just pick our own -- fresh, equal, ours. That way, we can share a name that does not perpetuate patrilineage. My parents were upset in the beginning. But, I asked them: "Why is it that no one cares if my sisters abandon their surnames to adopt the names of their husbands, but everyone panics when I want to abandon my surname to adopt a new name with my spouse?" My parents understood, and as always, are very supportive.

The current choice for last name is Wilde (not after Oscar; but after our future daughter, India Wilde).


Mats and magic

For now, though, Taylor is finishing up his studies and wrestling career at Maryland. He created his own major, Interactive Performance Art, which combines art, theater, American studies and philosophy. He hopes to create art that is more meaningful and more powerful and sends a political message by making it interactive between the audience and performer. He is still working on his senior thesis, which he hopes in some way will deal with LGBT issues.

He's also obsessed with magic and attends monthly meetings of the Society of American Magicians. He loves card tricks, and works constantly on sleight of hand and learning techniques (check out some of his card tricks). "I carry a deck of cards everywhere I go. In fact, I have a deck of cards even as we speak," he said during our interview.

Taylor hopes to work some magic on the mat at the NCAA wrestling championships, March 18-20, in Omaha, Neb. He has been dominant this season -- his 36-2 record includes wins in his last 13 matches. His last loss was a 5-4 decision to top-ranked Jake Varner of Iowa State, whom he might face again in Omaha. Taylor has finished third nationally the last two years, but says his "confidence is at a different level" this year. (March 20 update: Taylor finished fourth at the NCAAs).

Though Taylor's collegiate athletic career ends in a month, wrestling might continue to play a role in his future family.

"My fiancee and I joke that we're gonna have the first openly gay national champion and it's going to be the best thing ever."

Hudson Taylor can be reached via e-mail at: hudson.taylor4@gmail.com

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