Amherst College Athlete Ally Program Starting up with Help from Nia Harris

Nia Harris is a senior at Amherst College majoring in psychology and pre-medical studies. She hails from Bloomfield, CT, and ran track for the school during her time there, captaining the team this year. After Hudson Taylor’s recent appearance on campus, she decided to step up and lead the conversation about equality before her time on campus ended. The following interview was conducted with Program Coordinator Brian Healey.

Q: Tell me a bit more about your background and why you feel LGBT allyship is important?

A: I am from Bloomfield, CT. I lived in CT for all of my life before coming to Amherst. Currently, I am a graduating senior majoring in psychology and pre-medical studies. I’m lucky enough to come from great parents who have always taught me to respect and appreciate people no matter what size, color, race, or orientation they are. Having attended Catholic school for 8 years I struggled with the idea that it is “not ok to be gay” within my own religion. For a writing assignment in high school, I wrote a poem titled ‘Unconditional Love’ and expressed my confusions with the Catholic views about homosexuality and why I do not agree with them. While I received an A on this poem, I was told not to share it with the greater school community, This bothered me. If it was good enough to get an A, why did I have to silence it? This is a small example of the many LGBT issues that exist. These issues need to be addressed, which is why I think an LGBT allyship is very important.

Q: What do you think a group like Athlete Ally on campus could do for the overall good of the community at Amherst?

A: Last week I overheard some guys say a racial slur about black men. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This got me thinking…While we are an extremely educated population, there is still a lot the Amherst College community needs to learn. My hope is that people on this campus say stupid, insensitive, hurtful things not because they are hateful, but because they are ignorant. Athlete Ally could do just this: educate those who are ignorant. There are so many athletic gay stereotypes. “Oh she plays a masculine sport, she must be gay” or “oh he’s gay, he must not play a sport.” NO! Sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with athletic ability. My hope is that Athlete Ally can set an example for those who can’t seem to see past sexual orientation on the field, court, track, pool, etc.

Q: Do you think your team is a welcoming environment? Other teams at the school?

A: I would say that my team is a welcoming environment. Myself and the other captains on my team have always made an effort to make everyone feel comfortable. Some teams at this school (without naming any specifics) definitely aren’t as welcoming and have had serious problems. As a whole Amherst athletics could definitely be more welcoming to the LGBT community than it presently is.

Q: Do you think straight allies who are athletes help build respect among their peers for LGBT athletes?

A: Yes, in my mind a straight ally is someone who challenges transphobic and homophobic language and supports LGBT rights and movements. While I think it’s powerful to hear someone from the LGBT community speak up, I think it’s just as powerful to hear a straight ally speak up. My hope is that Athlete Ally will help build mutual respect for all athletes. Gay, straight, or however you identify – We’re all athletes.