Growing space at the table for the “others” in sports was always important to me, but the feeling of powerlessness about it left me silent and motionless.
This was the narrative I repeated to myself early in my career. It seemed like an impossible task, to ensure Black people, women and members of the LGBTQ community felt they had a seat at the table in sports’ decision-making conversations. It was a task I told myself I was neither ready nor worthy to do.
As I progressed and navigated my way through entry level positions in sports — working with major sports teams like the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks — I started to realize this was far from the truth. Using my voice and my presence would hold power in sports; I could actually make a difference.
It was this elevated level of thinking that led me to coming out at work.
After working for five years in and around sports, mostly in the closet, the opportunity to join the Miami Dolphins’ youth programs team presented itself. During the interview for the position, and for the first time ever in my career, I came out to the people interviewing me.
It was nerve wrecking to present my authentic self as a Black, female lesbian in an interview before I had even gotten the job. I was wondering if this could ruin my chances of being considered for the job. Most importantly, I considered that I would become my labels and no longer be judged on my merit and achievements.
Adding to the stress, at the time the State of Florida did not recognize gender identity or sexual orientation as protected employment classes. This further affected my fear and uneasiness as I was engaged to be married at the time and could this hurt my wife’s ability to find a job and our ability to start a family with some employment stability.
To my shock the Dolphins organization was progressive in addressing that challenge, by including those protections in their own employee handbook. In addition, the NFL had included sexual orientation protections for players in its collective bargaining agreement. I had no idea.
Fast forward four years later, I now oversee community relations, youth programs and the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders, and I facilitate so many programs that assist and expand the LGBTQ community.
During this time, the organization launched the Football UNITES brand, which aims to connect the intersections of the South Florida community by improving relationships, fostering understanding and experiencing culture.
We have created so many partnerships with organizations such as SAVE, Pridelines, Ariana’s Center, Equality Florida, Miami Beach Pride, Aqua Foundation and National Voices for Equality Education and Enlightenment. These partnerships are integral in our work with the communities of South Florida.
Since the launch of Football UNITES, the Dolphins organization has participated in the Miami Beach Pride Parade, hosted youth LGBTQ groups at home games and funded life saving programs for the LGBTQ community.
The most humbling moment I have had as an out person in the Dolphins organization was speaking at SAVE’s annual Champions of Equality Gala hosted at Hard Rock Stadium. I was able to share my personal journey and the pride I felt being a leader for an organization that was hosting such a wonderful event that affected the community that I am part of.
After that event I had a young woman of color who was also a lesbian tell me that she felt encouraged by my story and it was the first time she saw a woman that identified and looked like her in a position of influence.
To say that I felt humble would be a gross understatement. It nearly brought me to tears realizing that by being out and being vocal there was at least one person willing to do the same. It was the moment I felt the table get a little bigger.
It is moments like these that make the work of Football UNITES in the LGBTQ community worth it. After growing the program to provide over $500,000 and impacting over 18,000 people, I see the table is growing, our community is getting seats at that table, and both the Dolphins and I are part of generating that growth.
We still have work to do. No doubt. However I am honored to be part of the challenge to creating a more inclusive and accepting environment for members of my community by providing representation and utilizing my voice for change.
You can find RaShauna Hamilton on LinkedIn.
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