(This story was published in 2005).
By: Nat Brown
Last winter I was approached by a nationally-ranked skier who wanted to know if there was such a thing as an athletic grant or scholarship for gay athletes.
I didn't kow of any. [Editor's note: PFLAG's "Esera Tuaolo" Scholarship is one of the very few.]
Most of you know how difficult it can be for gay people in sports. First, there is the stigma that “sports aren’t for gay people.” I think I’ve proven that one wrong in my own career: I coached cross-country skiing for 35 years, fist at the high-school level, and then with the U.S. Ski Team and U.S. Biathlon Team. But it took me a long time to get up the courage to get into sports.
Second, there is the huge prejudice faced by gay athletes, from slurs to physical violence to teammates who don’t want to shower in the same room with a “fag.” In my case, there was a slander movement back in the '80’s to keep me off the U.S.S.T., which almost succeeded until an outspoken friend on the team intervened.
Finally, gay athletes are often petrified to come out, for fear of losing sponsorships or a spot on the team or alienating their friends and teammates. It took me ages to come out to some of my athletes and colleagues, and to team members, and it was awful to feel that I was not being honest with people who meant – and mean! - a very great deal to me. I deeply regret the “years of silence” when I was out to close friends, but avoiding the issue in my wider career.
As a result of this atmosphere of fear, many gay people simply never enter sports, and those that do are often terrified to come out and simply be who they are. It is a dreadful stifling of human potential and honesty.
I have decided, in a small way, to do something about all this.
I have started the Athletic Excellence Scholarship through the Seattle-based Pride Foundation. Pride has raised funding for LGBT projects since 1985, and last winter, in partnership with the Greater Seattle Business Association, 97 students received more than $230,000 in scholarships. (Together with their scholarship partner, the Greater Seattle Business Association, Pride has passed the million-dollar mark in scholarship funds raised; in addition, Pride has also awarded over $4,000,000 in grants to non-profit organizations supporting LGBT projects in the Northwest.) Attending the awards breakfast in May was a deeply moving experience: so many of these young people have survived enormous deprivation and prejudice, and all deserved and needed the help they received; many were in tears.
The Athletic Excellence Scholarship is for LGBT individuals who intend to pursue sports while attending college, or plan to pursue international excellence. Applicants must work though an accredited institution, and must attend school or be based in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho or Montana.
My goal is to help gay youth to claim a place in sports: first, by letting them know there is help available from people who care; second, by providing practical support in the form of scholarship money; and third, to improve the overall situation by helping gay athletes to establish a visible presence in the sport of their choice.
I have written to all my friends to consider making a donation. I have “primed the pump” with a personal donation of $1,000. The goal is to establish an annual scholarship of $5,000 - a large enough sum to make a real difference to someone who needs help.
Can you help?
Donations should be made to the Pride Foundation, and earmarked “Athletic Scholarship.” Checks can be mailed to: Pride Foundation, Athletic Excellence Scholarship, 122 E Pike Street, PMB 1001, Seattle, WA 98122. Or you go to the Pride Web site.
Please join us: we are looking for donors, of course – but also for friends who would be interested in helping us to raise funds – and we are looking for scholarship applicants (any Northwest-based LGBT youth should check out the Pride website for a list of the various scholarships available). Go to the Web site for more information.
Please consider joining us in this project.
Nat Brown is a three-time Olympic coach in cross-country skiing and has coached at seven World Championships and seven Junior World Championships. He was the first American to take over ski service for a foreign country (Slovenia). Prior to coaching, he taught at the Overlake School in Redmond, Wa., for 16 years. He is the author of "The Complete Guide to Cross-Country Ski Preparation" (The Mountaineers Book – now in a Russian edition) and currently owns and runs a small race-service shop in Edmonds, Wa. His loves are classical music, good books and his ranch in British Columbia.