clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Clemson Tigers celebrate out LGBTQ athletes and coaches in ‘My Story’ campaign

9 athletes and coaches come out publicly, supported by Clemson. ‘I’ve never experienced anything like this,’ says one.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 27 Women’s Clemson at Florida State
Tylar Bennett is one of nine LGBTQ athletes, coaches and staff at Clemson to come out publicly in a campaign by the Tigers athletic department.
Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Clemson Tigers athletics wants to make sure LGBTQ athletes and coaches know they are supported at Clemson.

That’s the message of a visibility and support program the Clemson Tigers athletic department shared in October of this year: My Story Matters. Outsports has just recently been made aware of the inspiring program.

In the initiative, various Clemson athletes, coaches and staff — most of whom are LGBTQ — share their life and athletic experiences and express feelings of support they’ve received from the school and its athletic department.

“I’ve been a coach for 22 years — at eight different institutions — and I’ve NEVER experienced anything like this,” women’s basketball assistant coach Shimmy Gray-Miller wrote to Outsports. Gray-Miller has worked at schools in each of the Power Five conferences, including the Florida Gators, Nebraska Cornhuskers and Washington Huskies.

“We are given a safe place and platform to share and be supported and support one another,” Gray-Miller added about her time at Clemson, where she has coached since 2018.

Coach Shimmy Gray-Miller holds a basketball with five players on the Clemson team.
Coach Shimmy Gray-Miller, in black, “huddles” with her Clemson Tigers women’s basketball team.
Clemson Tigers athletics

Clemson assistant athletic director Jeff Kallin sees said the athletic department takes a lot of pride in building an inclusive atmosphere for LGBTQ athletes and coaches.

“For us when you talk about diversity and inclusion it takes so many different forms, and we’ve learned to embrace lot of different people,” Kallin said. “We want to create an atmosphere where everyone feels they can be themselves here.”

The people at Clemson choosing to come out publicly and share their stories for the My Story Matters initiative:

  • Softball player Cammy Pereira
  • Basketball player Tylar Bennett
  • Basketball coach Shimmy Gray-Miller
  • Adjunct faculty working in sports Janna Magette Butler
  • Tigers graduate assistant Meaghan Frazier
  • Athletic Dept. staffer Jordyn Kirr
  • Volleyball coach Jackie Simpson-Kirr
  • Basketball player Shania Meertens
  • Tigers graduate assistant Brittany Alvarado

Kallin said the initiative was spurred by Pereira.

In one of the powerful videos, Meertens, who played high school basketball in Florida, outside of Orlando, talks about how coming out put a strain on the relationship with her mother and father. That she’s ready — with the support of Tigers staff — to share her story publicly speaks volumes about the power and support of college sports.

I’m not crying, you’re crying.

This entire initiative is a powerful statement from one of the highest-profile athletic departments in college sports. The women’s basketball team is currently 2-1 and fourth in the ACC. The last time the women’s tournament was held (2019) they were a 9-seed, upsetting South Dakota in the first round.

Before the season was cut short, the Clemson softball team — in its first year in the ACC — was 19-8 and third in the conference.

The Clemson football team has famously appeared in four of the last five College Football Playoff National Championship games, winning two of them.

It’s also important to note that all of the featured athletes, staffers and coaches we could find were women. It continues to be a completely different dynamic for women being out in elite athletics than men, and every story chips away at the overall perception that LGBTQ people are not welcome in sports.

The fact that Clemson — located in rural South Carolina known to be more conservative — would take this inclusion step is huge.

While some people continue to harbor perceptions about the treatment of LGBTQ athletes and coaches in The South and other parts of the country deemed less-friendly to LGBTQ people, Clemson is a beacon of hope.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen important steps from the Clemson Tigers. Five years ago, football coach Dabo Swinney was set to raise money for the anti-gay Palmetto Family Council; When he and the Tigers were made aware of the group’s true intentions, he withdrew. That was a loud statement by one of the most powerful men in college football.

To see the Clemson Tigers step up with this kind of LGBTQ-inclusive initiative is a powerful step toward making sports accessible for everyone.

You can read more about the Clemson Tigers at Shakin The Southland. And you can find more about Clemson’s overall athletics inclusion programs here.