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Being Out: Gay soccer player Joanna Lohman’s passion for equality stronger than ever

Gay soccer player Joanna Lohman is now retired, but her advocacy and passion for equality are stronger than ever.

Joanna Lohman

Being Out is a new feature that looks at LGBTQ people in sports who have come out since Outsports first published in 1999. Today: Soccer player Joanna Lohman.

Joanna Lohman has never been bashful, either in her decade-plus career in pro soccer or as an openly gay athlete who is passionate about equality, recently kissing in front of the White House during a rally for equality.

Lohman retired this spring from the Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League, but she let everyone know she’s not going away.

“After 16 years of playing pro soccer, I have decided it’s time to say goodbye to the game and HELLO to the bright future ahead of me,” she said in her retirement announcement. ...

“I am so excited for what comes next, including the role of Spirit Ambassador, HUGE retirement game on June 22nd (Pride Night), speaking tours all over the country, sports diplomacy around the world, giving the gift of beauty through my online course, and who knows ...maybe I will even run for office!

Lohman will be speaking at the 2019 Outsports conference in Los Angeles in June. Here are Lohman’s answers to our six Being Out questions:

What do you love the most about soccer?

I love being a part of a team and getting to work, on daily basis, with people I respect and admire towards a common goal. That provides motivation and purpose. I also love the cerebral and endurance aspects of soccer — it requires a great deal of fitness and intelligence to play this game.

This is not to say it is easy — it is hard work. You train six days a week and when you are not playing, you are doing whatever it takes to recover and prepare your body for the physical demand. This requires an incredible amount of discipline and tolerance for pain.

With blood, sweat and tears, I have struggled on many occasions to follow this dream. The challenges have made me a more resilient individual, have given me confidence to persevere and the ability to pick myself up after defeat.

Also, as part of a team sport, you learn that you are not unique in your struggles. You realize you are an important piece of a collective. You also learn, being only a part of something larger, that a lot of life is out of your control so it’s imperative to focus on the few things you can control as opposed to agonizing over what you cannot. This lesson has served me every single day.

Soccer is the world’s game. It is an incredible tool to breaking down barriers and I can travel the globe building connections with others through the sport. It is why they call it “the beautiful game”.

What does it personally mean to you to be LGBTQ+ in sports?

The platform to impact another human being as a professional athlete is unparalleled. I want to use this platform to inspire and advocate for equality. I want to make every fan that attends a game feel like they belong to something special — the women’s soccer community - and that their contribution is valuable.

Sport has the power to change the world and I want to be a part of this positive change. I will use the stage to consistently strive for betterment. I also realize that my occupation is a gift. I get to do what 99.9999% of women around the world have zero opportunity to do.

I am privileged and I view this privilege as a responsibility to stand for others who are unsafe to do so. I want to be a voice for so many who are forced into silence.

What advice would you give to LGBTQ+ kids in athletics, the kind of advice the younger you wish you had heard?

It is cool to be vulnerable — to open yourself up to be totally present in the moment and to feel. Use those feelings to grow and build awareness of who you are and who you want to be. And do not be afraid to express those feelings through your play on the field and through your poetry.

Regardless of your personal journey there will be pain and moments of struggle. Do not numb those moments because you will get through them faster if you embrace the challenge. And always remember, you are beautiful and valuable. Love yourself unconditionally and know that no matter how it is or how hard it gets, you are not alone.

Who is someone that inspires you?

My biggest role models growing up were my parents. They instilled a work ethic that still drives me to this day. They emphasized the importance of being a good person over any athletic or academic achievement.

They always reinforced that practice was the key to excellence and through it, one could get better at anything and everything. Also, they helped me to appreciated the journey — the day to day dedication to ones craft. The journey is where the true beauty lies (not the end goal).

What are you passionate/excited about right now?

I’ve launched my own online course, “Define Your Beauty”. This is huge for me because it is my life’s work. A compilation of 36 years of life-altering stories, my philosophy based on my lived experience and important facts and research combined with my own curriculum that have helped to shape my identity. I share it all with the purpose of inspiring you to find comfort and joy in your own skin by expanding your view of beauty. You’ll discover, define and ultimately love the qualities that make you unique, allowing you to bring that love to others and contribute to our global community in a way that only you can.

Throughout all of my experiences, I have learned that when I share stories of vulnerability, I create a space that allows for personal connection and others to share their stories. When people feel seen and acknowledged and understand that they matter, there is a desire to help others see that they matter, too. This creates a community of belonging in which everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential and define their own beauty.

What is your most memorable sports moment?

When I was about 7, I played my older brother in tennis. I lost to him that day (and many days after). I was so upset because I hated losing. My mother watched from a hill next to the court. As we walked home together I held my mother’s hand in silence still fuming from the loss.

My incredible mother knew no words would cheer me up. So, instead, she squeezed my hand that was interlocked with hers. In that subtle yet powerful gesture I knew she was telling me that she loved me and because of that love, everything would be OK.

We walked a few more yards and I said out loud to her, “I love you too.” I then ran off ahead with a smile on my face. This love my parents instilled in me consistently reinforced that regardless of any result, I was a success because I was worthy of love.

Joanna Lohman is a former professional soccer player, founder of ”Define Your Beauty”, human rights activist, a professional speaker and also serves as a Sport Diplomat. She is a graduate of Penn State University, was born and raised in Maryland and now lives in Washington, DC. She can be reached via her Instagram: @joannalohman15 or email: lohman.joanna@gmail.com

If you are out in sports in any capacity as openly LGBTQ and want to be featured in Being Out, drop Jim an email (kandreeky@gmail.com).