When gay sports fan Andrew Bauhs wrote about his quest to visit all 130 Division I-A college football stadiums in America in 2017, he closed by vowing, “The second half of my mission will be more open and proud.”
Since his story was published on Outsports, he discovered a noticeable jump in followers from the LGBTQ community on his social media accounts. Bauhs also found himself galvanized to become a more active representative of our community during all of his subsequent stadium adventures.
“One thing I’ve absolutely learned as a teacher is that visibility means everything,” he said. “Even the smallest little symbol can really help someone realize that they’re seen.”
To that end, Bauhs has made Pride a noticeable part of every journey, adding rainbow flags to his collegefootballtour.com website after his story was published and making them a more perceptible part of his journeys.
The effort to be more visible has helped Bauhs forge bonds with other LGBTQ football fans. While tailgating at Auburn, for instance, Bauhs and his husband, Olin, met another fan who saw the Pride stickers on their smartphones and told them he was relieved that he wasn’t the only out person there.
Then there was the time Bauhs caught a game at Duke and paid a visit to the university’s LGBTQ+ center to discuss his travels. He ended up taking home a Duke Pride flag that he still displays in his classroom.
As the above examples also imply, part of seeing games at every college football stadium in the U.S. means that Bauhs and his husband have been in the somewhat unique position of frequently planning trips together to red state America. Across the country, there are probably very few gay couples having conversations like: “Where should we go for our next trip: P-Town, Palm Springs, or Nebraska?”
Yet Bauhs has found common ground with many fellow fans regardless of where they have traveled and he was positively ebullient about the welcome he and his husband received on a recent visit to Kansas. Bauhs had heard that Lawrence, Kan., was an open minded community but still found himself blown away by the sheer volume of Pride flags in town and how he and his husband were embraced for who they were by every tailgater they met.
“Lawrence exceeded my expectations. I knew that it was going to be more open than most but it even exceeded that. It reminded me of a Madison or of an Austin. And that was a great pleasure and joy to be a part of,” he enthused.
While Bauhs has found many similar pleasant surprises during his quest, there have also been challenges along the way. Chiefest among them was a game at Liberty University, the evangelical institution founded by anti-gay televangelist Jerry Falwell.
Indeed, the couple had to edit themselves a bit while they were on Liberty’s campus in order to ensure their safety. They made sure to keep some distance apart while tailgating and referred to each other using more ambiguous “my partner” nomenclature. During the game, they occasionally overheard problematic political conversations in the stands and had to pretend to let them go by.
All of this to attend a college football game in modern-day America, not a World Cup match in Qatar. Yet even in an environment where he felt this kind of pressure, Bauhs made it through by finding escape at the opening kickoff.
“You’re still focusing on the bands and the mascots and the traditions that make it special. Once again, it’s that unifying piece — that no matter where you go, everybody can celebrate that team on that day and the traditions that make that place special. In so many ways, it’s empowering. College football is a safe space because everyone is in it for one positive purpose. And that’s the beauty of it,” he said.
Similarly, when Bauhs visited Ole Miss, he loved immersing himself in the pregame atmosphere at the university’s famous tailgate scene known as The Grove. But since he was visiting a Southern school nicknamed the Rebels, that meant a day at The Grove also included occasional glimpses of the stars and bars of the Confederate flag.
“I think we’ve gotten to a point in our society now where there’s a clear understanding about certain symbols and what they stand for. And making that public knowing that people can be hurt by just seeing that is frustrating in a place that is supposed to be positive,” he declared.
These experiences were more the exception than the rule, though. As Bauhs repeatedly asserted, his college football tour has been a way to discover how each stadium opens its arms to everybody. As his website and social media have grown in popularity, he’s also found that fans from some schools have invited him to join them at a game or tailgate, where he will occasionally split time talking football and a good moisturizing routine.
His favorite stadiums include his alma mater, Wisconsin, as well as nationally renowned universities like Texas A&M, Penn State, Nebraska, Washington and LSU. He also spoke glowingly of Cal’s “Tightwad Hill,” an embankment next to the stadium where Golden Bear fans sit on bleachers built amongst the trees and watch the game for free.
Above everything else, what made a stadium stand out in Bauhs’ mind was when it spotlighted a unique tradition. He named Virginia Tech’s “Enter Sandman” entrance and Wisconsin’s postgame “Fifth Quarter” band concert as rituals that made an impact on him.
Having visited 101 of the 130 stadiums since he began his quest, Bauhs has seen a lot of the best aspects of his favorite sport. But there are still places that he’s especially excited about seeing for the first time.
Later this season, he’s looking forward to taking in a game at Army. “I’ve heard that October afternoons in West Point are some of the most beautiful,” he exclaimed.
The tour has also enabled him to witness some all-time great games, including Texas A&M’s epic 74-72 win in 2018 over LSU in seven overtimes. But ultimately, one of the biggest victories of Bauhs’ tour has been demonstrating that there’s a place for out and proud LGBTQ fans at every stadium.
“The more sports is becoming a world that’s more open to the LGBTQ community, the more I want to make sure I’m a part of that and I’m a part of influencing others to be who they are in this world,” he said.