Gay basketball legend Mark Chambers contributed to this report.
The UCLA athletic department has established itself as one of the most inclusive places for LGBT athletes to participate in NCAA sports after a wildly successful Athlete Ally day on Monday. The event was part of UCLA's Ally Week and was the brainchild of UCLA undergrad Cyrus Sinai. He praised the athletic department for their cooperation, even making the event mandatory for all freshman and transfer student-athletes. Sinai said every varsity team was represented, including football and men's basketball.
After Hudson Taylor spoke in the morning with UCLA coaches, the cornerstone of the day was a late-afternoon symposium by Taylor in which he talked about the importance of straight allies for LGBT athletes. The talk was attended by 200 of UCLA's varsity athletes, in addition to other club-sport athletes.
One of those varsity athletes was freshman middle-distance runner Jacob Bartholomew.
LGBT issues are important in my life because recently a couple of my friends who have been involved in sports came out in high school. I have a whole lot of friends who are gay. When they came out I wasn't totally shocked, but at the same time I realized there are a lot of people who are gay and lesbian. They're no different than who they were before.
UCLA power lifter Kyle Ransom said his eyes were opened to the power of casual homophobia in the locker room:
This issue is important because a lot of times we as athletes in the locker room, we're giving each other crap and we dont' realize the deeper meanings behind a lot of what we're saying. We do it a lot of times in jest, but to a gay or closeted teammate it may be more than that. I know I'll be making more of an effort to watch what I say in the future.
Power lifting is a club sport at UCLA.
Sinai, who was a closeted athlete in high school, talked about the reality for athletes who remain in the closet at UCLA:
There are still so many closeted people here at UCLA, especially athletes, who don't feel comfortable coming out to their friends and teammates. Hudson really drove that point home yesterday - in part of his speech to the athletes yesterday he talked about how even though there might not be any out people on a certain team yet, the closeted people on those teams are without a doubt looking for those safe-space stickers and vocal allies that they can turn to. This is what this day was all about - developing allies, and providing these closeted team members with people that they can turn to, who will accept them with open arms.
Kudos to everyone who contributed to this fantastic event. This is how change is made, and you can see the wheels of change spinning in Ransom's comment.
UCLA Athlete Ally photos by Joe Lipper.