The OutField: GLSEN Sports Project changing the game for good

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By: Dan Woog*

Over the past two decades, LGBT educational issues surged into the headlines. Library books, curricula, protection for gay students – all have earned important national attention.

One area, though, still seemed off limits: sports.

Finally the spotlight has shined on that enormous, important area of school. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s “Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project” promises to make teams and physical education class safer and more inclusive for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression.

The project – which took shape at a two-day planning session in New York in December, and is directed by Pat Griffin, a veteran educator, writer and coach at the University of Massachusetts – was launched in March, on the GLSEN website (www.glsen.org <http://www.glsen.org>).

“It makes you a smaller person when you can’t bring who you are not only to your sport experience, but to every part of your life,” explains Griffin.

The site hopes to reach several different constituencies – athletes (gay and straight), coaches, administrators and parents. All have an impact on LGBT sports issues, whether they realize it or not.

“Athletes are natural leaders,” notes three-time NCAA All-American wrestler Hudson Taylor, a straight ally. “We have the ability to influence how people act, are treated, and speak about and to each other.”

“Athletes have an important role in influencing a school’s climate,” adds Massachusetts educator Jeff Perrotti. “I’m interested in using that power and privilege to make schools safe and inclusive for all students.”

The website offers a variety of resources. For example, “Game Plans” provide suggestions for making teams safe for LGBT players. A page for athletes encourages them to judge teammates and coaches on the basis of character, not sexuality, and to avoid making anti-gay jokes or comments.

The coaches’ page advises them to put Safe Spot Space stickers on locker room and office doors; to educate themselves about LGBT issues; make strong statements about respect for diversity, and use inclusive language.

Administrators should assume that there are LGBT people on their teams and staffs, and also make their expectations about inclusion and respect clear to coaches and athletes.

Parents of recruited athletes can report anti-gay statements made by college coaches to appropriate administrators, and encourage their school’s athletic department to sponsor educational programs on LGBT issues in sport.

A “Team Respect Challenge” page asks athletes to make a pledge to be leaders in their schools – and back up that pledge by posting a team photo on the website. The first team to do so, I am proud to say, is the Staples High School boys soccer team, coached by yours truly.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the GLSEN Sports Project advisory board. The 19-member board also includes Jamal Brown, a former out Dartmouth track star who is now a senior legal assistant; Helen Carroll, director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights sports project who coached the University of North Carolina-Asheville to a national championship; transgender hammer thrower Keelin Godsey; former NFL pro Wade Davis; Dr. Dee Mosbacher, whose documentary films explore homophobia in women’s sports; multicultural director Lea Robinson (a Final Four basketball player with Western Kentucky University); photographer Jeff Sheng; Brian Sims, an attorney and former NCAA football captain, and Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports.com.

“The military and many religions have come a long way toward acceptance,” notes Zeigler. “Sports is the last great closet. Making it safer for gay kids to be out on their teams is part of my life’s mission.”
In addition to the advisory board, the Sports Project has signed an “All-Star Team” of current and former professional, Olympic and collegiate athletes, coaches and leaders. All have committed publicly to the values of safety, respect and inclusion for student-athletes. The list includes Billie Jean King, Billy Bean, Brian Burke, John Amaechi and Martina Navratilova.

A “Game Changers” page on the website includes short videos. A variety of figures – coaches, athletes (including one who is transgender) and straight allies – talk about times they took a stand supporting LGBT sports issues. Viewers are encouraged to submit their own videos.

In the works: a “Bring Your ‘A’ Game” campaign. The “A” stands for “allies.” The site will offer ways to share their commitment to speak up and stand up for respect on their teams and in their schools.

The Sports Project offers individual consultation about making individual school athletic or physical education programs more inclusive. Also available: “Changing the Game” workshops for athletic department staffs.

For a long time, sports figures have talked about the need to address anti-gay behavior in school sports. Finally, GLSEN is walking the talk – and changing the game.

For more information, go to http://sports.glsen.org. To contact Griffin directly, email sportsproject@glsen.org.)

*Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, gay activist, and author of the “Jocks” series of books on gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.