clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Coach Julie Shaw feels fear every time she comes out. She does it anyway.

Julie Shaw, head women's basketball coach at the Univ. of La Verne, hears hear voice shake every time she says, "I'm gay." That doesn't stop her in her quest to help other coaches to understand LGBT issues.

Coach Julie Shaw leads the Univ. of La Verne Leopards in Div. III.
Coach Julie Shaw leads the Univ. of La Verne Leopards in Div. III.
Twitter

After returning from the NCAA Women's Coaches Academy I received tons of feedback from coaches who attended one of my sessions. The comments that kept coming back talked about my "bravery" and my "courage." One even called me "a champion for this generation."

Above all I heard, "thank you."

The session I had taught was on LGBT resources for coaches. It was titled "From My Perspective." Before I started the session I told them that everything they are about to hear are my thoughts and my thoughts alone. I simply share my story and how I have approached things in my career, as well as my life.

Since this is from my perspective, it is the perspective of a coach who is gay.

One of the quotes on my first slide is, "speak even though your voice may shake". I put this slide up first not only to help get my point across, but as a reminder to myself. It seems cliché, but I have to remember that by sharing my story maybe - just maybe - it can help someone in the room. Or sitting behind their keyboard right now. It may help another coach or administrator, or and most importantly it will help the many student athletes we impact on a daily basis.

There is always that point where I have to say those words in my presentation, "I am gay." Every time I say them I wonder if the audience can hear my voice shake. However, every time I say them I can feel a change in the room. Whether it is - element of surprise, discomfort, or wondering where the discussion will be headed next - it is palpable.

I take time to explain that every time I do this there is an element of fear. In every instance where I share my story it is another time I am coming out. The fear comes from how will people respond. Will this be something that hurts my professional career? How will this affect my team?

What stops my voice from shaking is the fact that this fear is why I should be speaking in the first place, that maybe there are others who share this fear or have other thoughts that circulate in their minds when they think about sharing their story.

As a coach I believe I should be a role model and understand that my players look at me as an example. I keep a simple motto: " Be the coach that I want my players to be."

If I want them to be positive and enthusiastic, then I have to do the same and give them that energy. So when I think about how sport and basketball teach them life lessons, I think about what type of people I want to help cultivate and send out into the world. I want confident, strong women who know who they are and are willing to stand up for their beliefs.

I do think about how this will affect my players. I think that if I can show them someone who is strong in the face of her fears, then I have done my part. I have also been lucky to be part of great programs in the world of women's basketball. I have been surrounded by exceptional mentors, administrators and student-athletes. Each one of these people has motivated me to share my story. They are a part of my story.

During recruiting trips the question would come up again about the topic of my dissertation when I taught a college class on Diversity in Sports organizations and came out to the students in my class (since I did not want to be a hypocrite when teaching them about LGBT issues in the coaching), or when I joined new teams.

I understand how some coaches may not be so ready to share their identity with everyone in their world. I always say when talking to coaches: So what is best for you. Not everyone feels the need to come out or share their personal life. The way that I dealt with wanting to be myself has been to always be honest when asked. I feel that this is how I would be with any other aspect of my life, and this should be no exception. This is what is comfortable for me.

So if I am asked to share my story I will share it, just like I am today. I think in so many areas of our life it is important to share your story, because by sharing you are giving someone a chance to connect, grow, change, and sometimes even give them strength. I have gained so much strength, inspiration and motivation from the many people who have shared their stories with me, and for this I will continue to share my story.

For those who have thanked me for this small act, I want to say "thank very much" for making it easier for me to speak without my voice shaking.

You can follow Julie Shaw on Twitter @CoachJulieShaw.

Story edited by Cyd Zeigler.