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LGBT Advocacy Through Sports – It’s a Movement!

By Taylor Carr

First there was cheering – then murmuring, whispering, and silence.  Stillness descended on the Olympic stadium as two athletes stood atop the medals podium, bowed their heads, and thrust their gloved fists toward the sky. American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos had reached the pinnacle of their sport – finishing first and third respectively in the 200m finals of the Mexico City Summer Games. But on that day, it wasn’t about athletic achievement – Smith and Carlos had made the courageous decision to use their platform to shine a light on the fight for civil rights taking place in the United States. Little did they know, that this one iconic moment would inspire decades of athletic activism.

Sport remains one of the greatest socialization mechanisms in the world. It communicates values without relying on any one language and its most successful participants are known and respected globally. Currently, we’re witnessing the greatest expansion of athletic activism in history. Never before have we seen athletes, teams and leagues using their influence so regularly to champion equality for marginalized communities. Athlete Ally is proud to help lead this movement.

Founded in 2011, Athlete Ally works to foster a culture where athletic communities –  and all whom they influence – advance LGBT and gender equality in sports and under the law. We’re proud to call over 150 Professional and Olympic athletes Ambassadors of our organization, acting as spokespeople and leaders in the fight for equality. We’re inspired by the 50 Athlete Ally college chapters across the United States, run by passionate student-athletes who are demanding inclusive athletic environments.

At Athlete Ally, we believe that the battle for LGBT equality and acceptance is intersectional – and that to truly achieve meaningful change we must address the marginalization of other communities. This year, we partnered with A Call to Men as part of our ongoing partnership with the Jr. NBA. Each year, Athlete Ally works to conduct inclusion trainings with Jr. NBA coaches – helping ensure that Jr. NBA coaches are working to create inclusive athletic environments for its participants. Our partnership with A Call to Men was particularly inspirational, as in addition to talking LGBT-inclusive environments, we were also able to talk about how we create men of character, helping shatter the toxic masculinity that often pervades sport.

However, while we’ve made great progress, we know we have work ahead of us. We were honored to award Michael Sam an Athlete Ally Action Award in 2015 for his courageous decision to come out and live his authentic life. But we know Michael’s reality – his decision ultimately impacted his ability to compete, a sad and unacceptable consequence. We’re currently watching a similar situation unfold with Colin Kaepernick. Colin sparked national attention with his decision to take a knee during the national anthem – an act Athlete Ally supported and championed as a brave and necessary decision to bring attention to issues facing the African American community in today’s society. Currently, Colin is out of a job, and many speculate it’s because of his vocal advocacy work. We’re not content with that reality, and we’re committed to working with athletes, teams and leagues to create a world where athletic activism is expected, accepted, and protected.

But we can’t do it alone. We need to continue resisting the normalization of hate, bias and discrimination that’s being perpetuated at the highest levels of our country. We mustn’t forget that the progress achieved to-date was through protest and activism, and showing up and being vocal when the rights of marginalized communities were under attack the most. We need your support to continue the fight. Take the Athlete Ally pledge on our website to stand for inclusive athletic environments and a world where athletic activism is demanded of our athletes, teams and leagues.