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Did the NCAA deserve the LGBT leadership award it received from Lambda Legal?

While the NCAA has taken small steps, it allows discrimination against LGBT athletes and the firing of gay coaches. Lambda Legal thinks the association is a good example of leadership in our community.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Villanova vs North Carolina Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Lambda Legal, one of the nation’s leading LGBT legal advocacy organizations, gave the NCAA a leadership award earlier this month. With all the work so many people are doing to press the NCAA to take a bigger position on LGBT issues with very little movement, the award has raised eyebrows.

The decision to give the association the award came over the summer, before the NCAA had decided to remove certain championship-level events from North Carolina. To be clear, the NCAA only moved certain events from North Carolina in response to the anti-LGBT HB2 law; Some LGBT athletes and coaches will be forced to travel to North Carolina if they want to compete in a number of NCAA playoff events over the next year.

The NCAA also allows member schools to discriminate against LGBT student-athletes and fire coaches who are LGBT.

Plus, there is still a clear level of fear LGBT people have playing and coaching in the NCAA. For example, while coaches tell Outsports that there are countless LGBT women’s basketball coaches in the NCAA — one closeted coach even saying she believes that number is as high as 75% — there are only two head coaches who are publicly out. One school in the South uses policy to bully LGBT student-athletes into silence.

Campus Pride, for one, tweeted that the award was "too early":

Lambda Legal said in August the award was in part because of the NCAA's help in fighting an anti-LGBT law in Indiana. The NCAA also provides different diversity resources, like pamphlets and symposia.

Lambda Legal representatives in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York all declined to return repeated requests for comment.

While some may say that the firing of gay coaches and the discrimination against LGBT student-athletes are the actions of members schools and not the NCAA, the NCAA National Office has told advocates that the national-office hands are tied because the NCAA IS its membership. If that’s the case, then the NCAA and its entire membership fully owns the targeting of LGBT student-athletes and the discrimination against coaches perpetrated by various schools.

When Lambda Legal chose to give the NCAA this distinguished award, the association had already refused to remove the men’s Final Four from Houston after the city legalized discrimination, and at that point the NCAA had said it would only be adjusting to future possible venues.

"The Association has set an example nation-wide for how organizations and businesses can be allies in the movement for LGBT civil rights," Jim Bennett, Regional Director of the Midwest regional office of Lambda Legal. "We are thrilled to honor the NCAA this year with the Corporate Leadership Award for holding event sites to an inclusive standard, which sets a good example for the student-athletes it represents."

It’s a tough pill to swallow that an association that allows its members to discriminate against LGBT people, fire coaches for being gay and fire professors for being transgender is any "example" for good partnership on LGBT civil rights.