clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NCAA Inclusion Forum addresses LGBT issues in college sports

New, comment

Karen Morrison and her team at the NCAA hosted three powerful days in Indianapolis breaking ground in gender, disability, race and sexual orientation inclusion

Chris Graythen

The NCAA last week held an Inclusion Forum in Indianapolis at the NCAA national headquarters. The forum, organized by the NCAA office of inclusion, provides educational sessions for participation based on disability, gender, sexual orientation and other demographics.

The forum had been strictly focused on female inclusion in previous years. They made a change in 2012 with the increasing attention to sexual orientation and other issues.

"We experimented wit this format of trying to address larger inclusion issues last year, but it was experimental and we didn't market it extensively," said NCAA director of gender inclusion Karen Morrison. "So I was pleased we had a broader audience this year engaged in the broader topics."

Attendees ranged in the hundreds and hailed from across the nation. Most were administrators in their school's athletic departments.

For years, the Office of Inclusion had no LGBT subcommittee. All issues relating to sexual orientation were referred to the subcommittee on women's issues. That didn't make much sense for gay men, and now Morrison heads up both subcommittees on gender and LGBTQ issues.

"There's a legitimacy in the NCAA community life when we have a standing committee like that," Morrison said.

The forum itself consisted of a series of panel discussions and speeches over the course of three days, April 30-May 2. Also included were several social engagements to meet other attendees, and two wheelchair basketball games featuring teams from the University of Illinois.

I spoke on a panel titled "Sports Inclusion and the Media," along with espnW's Carol Stiff and Diverse magazine's G.E. Branch III. As the conversation took place 24 hours after Jason Collins' big announcement, that dominated the discussion.

The final day, May 2, was dubbed by Pat Griffin "Gay Day at the NCAA," as many of the events featured LGBTQ topics, including the first session of the morning with Anna Aagenes of GO! Athletes, Hudson Taylor of Athlete Ally and trans sports activist Kye Allums. The three activists were moderated by Clarion University of Pennsylvania president Karen Whitney.

"I thought that discussion was a wonderful blend," Morrison said. "The audience is always moved by hearing from our student-athletes. This is why we're doing the work we're doing. And they're reminded of that when we're talking about unfamiliar topics like LGBTQ issues."

One of the speakers was Nevin Caple, co-founder of the Br{ache the Silence Campaign, which advances LGBTQ inclusion in women's sports through professional and college campus integration initiatives. Caple also played basketball at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

"With LGBTQ inclusion quickly becoming a professional topic, it's important for coaches, athletic administrators, and university presidents to be aware of new resource to support the growing need for a more inclusive athletic climate," Caple said. "Administrators should realize they are not alone and feel comfortable asking for help as the NCAA and affiliate organizations are making LGBTQ inclusion in sports a priority."

In her seven years with the NCAA, Morrison has seen a dramatic shift in how the organization addresses LGBT issues.

"I think the national office has come a long way," she said. "I don't think there was any action before. There wasn't committed action to making change for the LGBTQ community. We'd do things, but it wasn't a concerted effort. That has changed. Athletics has trailed our campus colleagues. But i think we're coming along fast. We're absolutely helped by the fact that our student-athletes are so much further along than our leadership on this."

Morrison and the NCAA will attend the Nike LGBT Sports Summit in June.