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Varsity Leaders Must Advocate LGBT Awareness in Varsity Sport

This past week a school newspaper at Ryerson called the Eyeopener published a feature on gay varsity athletes. The article speaks to the stories and experiences that gay athletes share, debunking stigmas and assumptions about having LGBT athletes in the locker room. It also examines the uncertainty and fear that many LGBT athletes have in their daily lives, because of the judgement and discomfort that lingers in the eyes of uninformed teammates.  It is essential to raise awareness to enrich the lives of those who are uninformed, and create positive space for the LGBT athlete.


The women’s hockey team became a large part of this feature, as probably the most ideal example of comfort and acceptance of LGBT teammates.


LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered) individuals face a lot of ridicule in their everyday lives about their identity, from strangers, unknowing co-workers and even teammates. It’s a turbulent journey for many which typically begins in high school and doesn’t feel solved until individuals make connections with other LGBT individuals in safe environments. Given the time spent with teammates in varsity sport, and the strong bonds that are formed, the locker room and field of play should be a safe space for LGBT athletes. Unfortunately, at many schools, this is not the case.


As an LGBT athlete, I have experienced homophobic comments first hand over many years of participation in hockey, even at the varsity level. It is a difficult reality to be taunted or put down, inadvertently or not, because of your identity.  Just as kicking someone in the shin and then apologizing doesn’t take away the bruise, a passing comment like “That’s so gay,” excused, as ‘I didn’t mean it like that’, or ‘it was just a joke’ doesn’t justify the comment as being okay. It is socially unacceptable. Anything more extreme than these comments can have much greater implications, and can leave much deeper bruises on LGBT athletes.  See this article about homophobic locker talk that pushed an NCAA baseball player to near suicide during his struggle with his sexuality, a reality that is true for countless other athletes. Just as Racism is not tolerated, condoned or accepted, homophobic comments are NEVER okay in the locker room, or any other aspect of daily life. One homophobic slur in the locker room or on the field of play, is one too many.


I am talking about this issue because I believe it is the social responsibility of young people in university to act with awareness and respect for those around them – if not, what is our purpose in education? How can tolerance and acceptance ever be created if those immediately involved don’t advocate for change? How can any varsity athlete, be considered a leader in the community if we do not support each other?


The women’s hockey team at Ryerson has one of the most positive spaces for LGBT athletes I have ever experienced. We have become a family, and we love each member of our family regardless of race, religion, sexual preference or any other factor. We are all contributors, and that is what matters to us. There is an open dialogue about sexuality and a number of LGBT players in our locker room who feel safe and supported, by each other and by all members of the team. I want to believe that this in not an anomaly in inter-university sport.


Sexuality is not a measure of skill, not a measure of work ethic or commitment. Sexuality has no relation to participation in Varsity athletics. Sexuality simply stated, is irrelevant. And I believe it should be considered so in every locker room, in every sport.  


I am proud to say that Ryerson Athletics has begun to take action in supporting the LGBT community and LGBT athletes. On October 27, 2012 the Ryerson Rams men’s hockey team hosted the first LGBT- Awareness game, with the support of organizations such as You Can Play Project**, GET Out! Canada, and the Toronto Gay Hockey Association (TGHA). The game invited members of the surrounding communities, the Toronto Gay Village on Church St and Ryerson students, to come together to promote awareness to end homophobia in sports. This video was played during the first intermission.


Ryerson is involved with initiatives to support the LGBT community. I want to know, what is it like in your locker room? Is it a safe place for an LGBT athlete? Have you taken the time to love each teammate for being a part of your team? Have you stood up to someone who made an inappropriate comment? Did you let it go? The attitudes of those standing by influence the culture of a locker room. The recognition that LGBT athletes are people too, and those who are uncomfortable with an LGBT athlete must look within him to appreciate the person that teammate is.


Now is the time to become informed, to talk about these issues and realize as a varsity athlete and leader in the community that you set the example. It is your obligation to advocate for change. Everyone deserves RESPECT, regardless of sexual orientation, or any other factor for that matter.

 

All the Best,

 

Gino

 

***

The You Can Play Project has been a source of inspiration for many LGBT athletes since its inception last year. It is an initiative created to stop casual homophobia in sports through public service announcements (see video). Patrick Burke, son of Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, started the project after the tragic death of his brother Brendan. Brendan was involved with the NCAA Miami University of Ohio Red hawks men’s hockey team making the same efforts to end homophobia in sport prior to his death.  The initiative has been backed by a number of NHL players and has reached NCAA and CIS schools publicly stating a safe space for LGBT athletes on their campuses through online videos. Using this medium the You Can Play project captures Athletic Administrators and athletes from different sports at the school repeat the mantra, “If you can play, you can play.”

 

The progress of the You Can Play Project can be followed on twitter @YouCanPlayTeam .


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