A key tenet of Pride month is highlighting visibility for every corner of the LGBTQ community with the understanding that shedding such light will embolden those struggling with their own identity. Something as simple as living your truth openly can give those questioning themselves a wave of solace and a promise that things can be better.
We see it all the time in sports, a realm rife with figures primed to be role models, playing a vital part in shaping young people’s views of themselves. Such was the case for out lesbian former Welsh Women’s National Lacrosse goalie Erin Walters-Williams.
In a self-penned article for Sky Sports, Walters-Williams described how encounters with “subtly out” coaches while playing lacrosse and soccer as a youth gave her an “intense admiration” for them for “quietly defying the societal norms of the times” while she was initially questioning her own sexuality.
“Having these role model women who loved the sports I loved went a long way towards the development of my own game. They were considered strong, powerful, and accomplished. They weren’t really known beyond lacrosse, but within our community, they were respected figures,” wrote Walters-Williams.
That love of sport cultivated by seeing strong LGBTQ figures within it carried Walters-Williams to athletic success, playing lacrosse at the NCAA level. But injury setbacks and homophobia within the community forced her to rediscover that power while watching the 2011 Women’s World Cup.
“When Megan Rapinoe crossed for Abby Wambach to head her thrilling equalizer in the dying minutes of extra-time in the quarter-final against Brazil, the team spirit evident in the USA celebrations invigorated me,” wrote Walters-Williams. “Sport had hooked me again.”
It wouldn’t be the last time that Rapinoe would help shape Walters-Williams’ vision for cultural attitudes toward LGBTQ people within sport. Highlighting the Golden Ball winner’s famous “You can’t win a championship without gays on your team” comment, Walters-Williams pushed for a “culture of inclusion” for all levels of sport.
“[Rapinoe] wasn’t saying that lesbians like her were better footballers because they’re lesbians. She meant that the most successful teams are those with cultures in which everyone feels comfortable to be true to themselves and each other,” Walters-Williams told Sky Sports.
Though her competitive days are over after competing in two World Cups, Walters-Williams’ mission continues as a coach for the Welsh U19 and U20 squads and Senior Sport Empowerment Officer for the Rainbow Laces campaign spearhead charity Stonewall.