YOUBelong Launches Powerful LGBT Youth Sports Camps

Jasper Juinen

High-level sports training and leadership seminars will be the hallmark of new initiative

Former NFL player Wade Davis and LGBT rights activist Darnell Moore are teaming up to create a sports camp aimed at empowering LGBT and straight-ally youth.

YOU Belong Sports & Leadership Initiative will host four camps throughout the year involving high school and college students, each one focusing on a different sport. The first YOU Belong camp will focus on basketball and will take place in Chicago, July 25-28. Plans are already in the works for future camps including football, soccer and track & field.

Outsports is an official partner of YOU Belong Sports & Leadership Initiative.The burgeoning organization is also partnering with the You Can Play project.

The camps will feature two main components: High-level sports coaching by professional athletes and other sports experts, as well as empowerment seminars aimed at reinforcing leadership skills. They are currently in talks with professional sports teams and leagues about building partnerships to provide that high-level coaching.

While professional sports teams and pro athletes will provide elite-level coaching, the only qualification to participate is that the youth be 14-24 and be either a member of the LGBT community or an ally. Youth of every gender, race and sexual orientation will be welcome.

"We want them all," Davis said. "It's empowering for a kid to see a young athlete who's out on his team and doing well, and for her to see that and think, ‘maybe this is possible.'"

For Davis and Moore, the focus on youth is the continuation of years of work while putting the target on a neglected area in the LGBT equality movement.

"There's a tendency to talk about youth issues but never talk to youth and invite youth to be part of these conversations," Moore said. "They're never made central to the conversation. A lot of the conversation about news reports centers around the search for the first professional athlete to be gay to come out, the desire to create the safe space for this adult to come out so their career isn't impacted. But while we're tackling adult-oriented rights, youth are facing a lot of stuff."

Some of the issues YOU Belong's project is designed to combat include low self-esteem, bullying and harassment in school and at home, and other key issues like teen suicide and school drop-out.

"Athletes who play sports have higher self-esteem," Davis said. "This is an opportunity to empower youth and put them in situations where they will be successful. Most won't make it to the NFL or NBA, but they will feel a sense of achievement."

The camps will focus on two key areas of empowerment.

First is to let LGBT youth see they can exist in the sports world. With so few role models in sports, these youth are often overwhelmed by the straight-jock stereotype that pervades sports. The camps will provide safe spaces for these youth to participate.

The second goal is to empower allies to stand up against LGBT harassment. While athletes and students may behave when authority figures are nearby, Davis said the harassment and bullying takes place when athletes are away from coaches and teachers. Empowering allies to be allies in those situations is essential to YOU Belong's work.

To make the experience impactful for attendees, organizers are limiting the number of participants at the Chicago-based camp in July to 60.

YOU Belong Sports & Leadership Initiative has opened a fundraising campaign to help make the camps nearly cost-free for participating youth.

Find YOU Belong at their Web site and on Twitter.

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