Three seniors at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania have teamed up to form a new student organization for LGBTQ student athletes like themselves. The Swarthmore Queer Athletes group will hold its first meeting next month, according to the Swarthmore Phoenix. But what Eléonore Moser, Seneca Kinn-Gurzo and Sydney Covitz are doing is just a small sample of what is happening beyond the Greater Philadelphia area, on campuses nationwide.
“We wanted to create a diverse group where people can have a place to go to discuss queer issues if they do not feel comfortable doing so on their respective teams,” Moser, Kinn-Gurzo and Covitz told the Phoenix. The three women are members of Swarthmore’s soccer team.
“We recognize that homophobia and transphobia exist and have existed within athletic departments since their inceptions. We have seen this with fans from other schools, teams on campus, as well as the general world of sports outside of Swarthmore.”
“Athletics poses different and unique challenges for queer and trans people that often go unaddressed,” they said. “There’s a very explicit and strong gender binary within the framework of having separate men’s and women’s teams, including binary locker rooms and different uniforms.
“Athletics is a very physically intimate arena where athletes shower together and are often in close contact physically. Further, sometimes teams have reputations that might not invite or make space for someone on that team being comfortable coming out,” said the seniors. “Since individual athletes are supposed to represent their teams, a team’s desire to steer clear of a queer reputation, consciously or subconsciously, can lead to extra pressure on individuals to stay in the closet.”
Far away in Walla Walla, Wash., student athletes at Whitman College told their student newspaper about the struggles and joys of living and competing outside the closet.
“For me, being a gay/lesbian woman in the athletic department has simultaneously been liberating and anxiety provoking,” said Olivia Engle, a member of the women’s lacrosse team, in an interview with the Whitman Wire.
“Being an athlete gives certain visibility on campus that can be really beneficial as a platform, but also places a lot of stress on how others see me. There have been certain situations on campus where I felt as though my identity as a gay athlete could have the potential to limit my professional appearance.”
Instead, Engle said she has found a tremendous support system in her lacrosse teammates.
“On the other hand, it has been liberating and is a place to be me,” Engle told the Whitman Wire. “My teammates have been some of the most supportive and caring people I know. I feel like I can be myself around them and we are able to just play the sport we all love.”
Back at Swarthmore, the seniors are laying the groundwork for underclassmen and women to take the reins of their new organization so it lives on beyond their graduation day, and expands across campus.
“We are hoping that SQA will help merge LGBTQ+ identifying athletes with the broader campus queer community, since athletics often ends up being a separate space,” they said. “The three of us certainly don’t have the positionalities to experience all forms of marginalization within the queer community, so we hope this group will help bring together a wide range of athletes with different experiences so we can address them all together.”
The SQA meets for the first time on March 22.