Yesterday Campus Pride launched their Out To Play Project, an initiative focused on fostering LGBT equality in collegiate sports, with their first ever list of “The Best of the Best” college athletic programs that are “LGBT friendly.” The schools included on this inaugural list are Bates College, Bowdoin College, Bucknell University, Columbia University, Indiana University, Ithaca College, Kennesaw State University, New York University, Stanford University and Whitman College.
The cool part is that I’ve already seen press releases from several of these schools announcing their inclusion on the list and using it as a point of pride, complete with supportive quotes from athletic directors and student-athletes. Though the criteria for inclusion on this list is not completely clear, Campus Pride does ask for information about “policies, programs and practices” as well as for instances of individual coaches, athletes and teams exemplifying the goal of being LGBT-friendly. Campus Pride is already making plans for their next list and invites submissions of candidates for future lists of the best of the best.
In a similar call for evaluating LGBT friendly sports programs, Hudson Taylor recently wrote a column for the Huffington Post calling for an Athletic Equality Index for professional sports teams based on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.
The time is right for school and professional sports programs to assess the climate for LGBT people. Where once the results of such efforts would have yielded uniformly bad news highlighting hostility and discrimination in athletics, we can now celebrate schools like the ones included on the Campus Pride Out To Play Project list. Some good things are happening, not just in these schools, but in others across the US as well. It is a great idea to reward these athletic programs and to help set a standard for other school athletic programs that are not so LGBT-friendly.
The challenge will be to identify some measurable criteria that are based in athletic department policy, practice and programming rather than on individual team, coach or athlete actions. My experience is that, in any given school, the range of LGBT-friendliness is quite broad. While some teams are viewed by the athletes in that school as open and welcoming to LGBT students and coaches, others at the same school are viewed as decidedly hostile to LGBT people. We cannot leave the responsibility for creating and maintaining an inclusive, safe and respectful athletic climate up to individual teams, coaches and athletes.
Coaches come and go as do athletes and LGBT friendliness can come and go with them. Real change, substantive change that is sustained even with the transience of coaches and athletes, must take place at the departmental level. Coaches and athletes who come into an athletic program need to know departmental expectations for diversity and inclusion for which they are responsible. That is how real change can be sustained.
Athletic administrators need to take a stronger leadership role in making sure that everyone in the athletic department is aware of and responsible for maintaining an LGBT-friendly climate as well as for making explicit what that means in every day practice.
Campus Pride’s Out To Play Project and the “Best of the Best list is a great start toward reaching this goal.