I attended a panel the other night of LGBT student-athletes and other athletic department personnel.
Here’s what I came away with: things are not good but people think they are getting better.
And I guess they are if you look at from a certain point of view. And before I go any further let me say that my point of view is not one of current intercollegiate athlete. But the fact that people can come out without getting beat up these days is not really progress in my opinion. (Also note that people do indeed still get beat up for being gay.)
The two female student-athletes on the panel (there were no out male athletes–a point well-noted and discussed and certainly indicative of the climate in athletics) talked about how their coming out was, basically, no big deal in terms of acceptance by their athletic peers. This was not especially surprising to me. But, after listening to them talk more, I realized it also was not completely true. Both of them talked about altering their behavior–especially in the locker room–so as not to make others uncomfortable. They took showers separately from other team mates, avoided eye contact in that space so no one would get “the wrong idea.”
I always find it kind of strange that gay people talk about making concessions to heteros so they don’t feel uncomfortable in a space that is so much more dangerous for gay athletes than for straight ones. That’s not really acceptance if the people who say they are fine with it think you are going to jump them or convert them just by the mere presence of flesh.
I was also appalled when someone in the audience, also a student-athlete, recounted the story of a straight ally stood up to a team member who was spouting pretty hateful anti-homophobic comments. Not because of the story or the presence of homophobia but by this:
Said ally “ripped [homophobic team mate] a new one” according to the story teller. And many people in the room laughed at this comment.
I couldn’t believe it. The “new one”, of course, is an asshole. And the way a new asshole gets ripped is through forceful acts of sodomy. I don’t find that funny in any context, let alone a panel about LGBT athletes.
I was also disappointed that people kept using the term “lifestyle choices” as some kind of euphemism for being gay. A lifestyle choice is paper or plastic, country or city–not gay or straight.
Here’s the progress: that such a program can be put on at a DI school and people show up to be on the panel (unless they are a gay male athlete) and to listen to the panelists.
But there are too many things that no one seems able to talk about. It’s as if it’s enough that gay athletes are (sometimes) not openly ostracized or physically accosted but that asking for freedom of movement around a locker room or people who understand that saying the word gay around gay people is not offensive is too much and maybe not even worth fighting for.