Texas A&M hosted an LGBT sports conference last week that featured a strategy session with academics and activists focused on working more closely together to end homophobia in sports. The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Sport Conference was organized by George Cunningham (right), associate dean for academic affairs, professor of sports management and director of the Laboratory for Diversity in Sport. I was fortunate to attend the conference of about 15 folks from around the LGBT sports world.
It was eye-opening to hear about all of the research being executed by some incredible academics at universities across the country. Sue Rankin at Penn State has an amazing study of 8,000 collegiate athletes that promises to give us a fantastic snapshot of the minds of athletes today. Incidentally, 400 of those athletes identify as one of the letters in LGBT. Janet Fink at the University of Connecticut has data that shows sports fans don't want women's sports sexualized; They respond to the stats and scores much better than bikinis and bras.
The attendees also gave presentations to a couple hundred graduate and undergrad students Friday afternoon. While everyone conveyed some fantastic information that kept my attention for the full five hours, two speakers gave insights that particularly stuck with me.
NCLR's Helen Carroll talked about the marginalization of bisexual athletes. It's a real issue, in my mind. So much of the gay culture tells bisexual people that they're "bi now, gay later." That is, bisexuals just can't admit they're gay. And straight men tell you that if you've dabbled with another guy...you're gay. I personally think most people are bisexual at some level, and that the pressure to "pick a side" puts stress on bisexuals who truly struggle in the push-and-pull between the two worlds. It was refreshing to hear Helen talk about this, and I know I'll be doing more writing about it here.
Hetrick-Martin's Wade Davis summarized my big takeaway from the conference: The importance of allies. I talk often about the importance to not "preach to the choir," but to reach those who are "on the fence" or who have no interest in protecting the LGBT community from discrimination in sports. Those are the people we need to reach...and by far the best way to reach them is through our allies. Men and women in high school, college and professional locker rooms do a far better job of reaching their less-than-inclusive teammates, coaches and administrators than I can. My role is to offer them the tools, the knowledge and a platform to help make change. But those straight allies are the vessels to take the change to another level.
A big, big thanks to Cunningham for the vision of this conference. Texas A&M has been named one of the 10 worst campuses in America for LGBT students. It was no small undertaking to bring the cast of folks he assembled in College Station, and to get buy-in from the university. Plus, he packed the room with almost 300 students and guests for the conference. He's a forward-thinker in this area...and the fact that he's a straight ally makes him all the more powerful.
The list of attendees for the conference included:
Eric Anderson, University of Winchester
Erin Buzuvis, Western New England University
Helen Carroll, NCLR
Mary Ann Covey, Texas A&M
George Cunningham, Texas A&M
Wade Davis, Hetrick-Martin Institute
Janet Fink, University of Connecticut
Pat Griffin, University of Massachusetts and GLSEN
Vikki Krane, Bowling Green State University
Woojun Lee, Texas A&M
E. Nicole Melton, Texas A&M
Karen Morrison, NCAA
Camille O'Bryant, Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo
Sue Rankin, Penn State
Ellen Staurowsky, Drexel
Nefertiti Walker, University of Massachusetts
Jacquelyn Wilson, Texas Women's University
Dan Woog, Staples High School
And myself, your humble correspondent.
By the way, Halo is the lone gay club within 50 miles of Texas A&M. It was hopping and quite fun on Friday night! While the area is considered somewhat intolerant toward gay people, the patrons were about a third straight, which I thought was pretty cool.