"Athletes and Allies" Organization Aims to Support LGBTQ Athletes
Issue   |   Wed, 11/11/2015 - 01:02

Founded last spring, Amherst Athletes and Allies looks to foster more community and acceptance within the athletic community for athletes who identify as LGBTQ. The group’s recent “A Safe Space Includes” campaign has spotlighted teams and called on them to commit to serving as a haven for these athletes.

Taylor Summers ’16 founded the program last year with Idalia Friedson ’15. “Ever since I was a freshman I have felt that our campus is so much more accepting of LGBTQ students than we are outwardly able to perceive,” Summers said. “I didn’t know how my teammates would react when I came out until I started to get to know them and once that happened it cleared up any doubts that I had previously had. After freshman year, though, I never wanted anyone to have the doubt that I had as a freshman. I wanted people to know before coming out that they were accepted.”

Friedson had similar intentions in founding the program.

“I felt compelled to start the program for a few reasons: One was recognizing that if an LGBT player comes onto a team without overtly knowing that their team will be accepting, it makes it way more difficult to come out, even if the team ultimately handles it well,” she said. “So we definitely started this program with freshman, pre-frosh and closeted athletes in mind to ease some of their fears and to teach allies that proactivity is important.

After the pair attended a talk given by Hudson Taylor, the founder of “Athlete Ally,” a non-profit aimed at fostering unity and inclusive athletic spaces, they were both inspired and provided with a framework to complete their mission.

It quickly became clear that the ideal set-up for the club would provide a space for LGBTQ athletes and their allies as well as make concrete changes within the Amherst community. Through partnerships with Angie Tissi and the Queer Resource Center as well as Emily Lombardo and Amherst Leads, many strategies have been implemented.

The most impactful campaign thus far has been the “A Safe Space Includes” campaign, a poster campaign that spotlights teams and individuals who have committed to make places important to them a “safe space” for all LGBTQ athletes. The poster campaign is a play on Duke’s “You Don’t Say” initiative that is aimed at showcasing certain words and which phrases that are often used in offensive ways. Club leaders Tess Frenzel ’17 and Itai-Brand Thomas ’15 were also essential to the creation of the photo campaign.

“In starting the photo campaign, we definitely wanted to gain visibility on campus and do something that immediately made an impact,” Summers said. “These posters help to make it clear that these are safe spaces, so when recruits or prospective students visit they will know what kind of community we have.”

Participating members in the “safe space” poster campaign vary from varsity and clubs athletes as well coaches and administrators. Thirty-seven total groups participated including representatives from 17 varsity sports, five clubs team and eight administrators or coaches.

Head softball coach Jessica Johnson is one of the eight who chose to participate. “I take hard line on this issue both professionally and personally because it shouldn’t be an ‘issue’,” she said. “In my mind, every nook and cranny on this campus should be a safe space, non-negotiable, but I realize we might not be there yet. I think the best way to open minds is to start by opening your own door so I am hoping this campaign helps to foster the dialogue and works to tear down some stereotypes.”

In addition to the photo campaign, Summers and Friedson met with athletic administrators and coaches at the end of the last academic year in hopes of offering them strategies they can implement within their own teams. They also host monthly meetings geared toward offering a specific place for athletes to gather and to discuss issues. In terms of future plans, the main goal will be to continue to educate. This year’s group is headed by Summers, Frenzel, Lee Stevens ’16 and Kathryn McHenry ’17.

“The goal is to educate people the best we can about creating a visible culture of acceptance, whether that’s having speakers or hosting whole teams at our events and talking to them about what they can do,” Summers said. “We are going to get in front of as many coaches and players as we can because people are generally really accepting and supportive, but don’t always know how to actively demonstrate their support as allies.”

“My hope is that one day we won’t need a separate space for LGBT athletes, but for now we need to target the athletic sphere in order to get it to where it needs to be,” Friedson said.

“On the two teams I have been a part of here, I have personally tried to take on the role of being the supportive teammate who people feel like they can talk to, especially for the freshmen, while also advocating for the LGBTQ community, but that only impacts the team that I’m on,” Summers said. “This campaign allows me, as well as others, to serve that role in the greater community.”