Athlete Ally Ambassador Caitlyn Lawrence Reflects on Climate for LGBTQ Athletes at USC-Aiken

Caitlyn Lawrence is a Senior at the University of South Carolina Aiken, and the captain of the Women’s Tennis Team. Here, she speaks about her experience as an athlete, and the climate at the institution for LGBTQ student-athletes. 

I grew up in a conservative town, but the coaches I had were some of the most progressive people I have ever met. They believe that all are equal, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. What these coaches wanted were athletes that would work and try their best. This always made sense to me, and at our club, in our little family, we never faced much, if any homophobic behavior.

Then I went to college and was no longer in a tolerant community. People discriminated against members of the LGBTQ community which was something I never really saw before; I was even told by a group of students that they couldn’t believe that I said I supported gay marriage, as if I was in the wrong for supporting it. I was in a completely new world.

I also saw the injustice within our men’s and women’s tennis team. What may seem like meaningless, harmless comments such as “that’s gay,” are anything but. These comments are derogatory, making it more difficult for those of the LGBTQ community to come out and fully accept themselves. Not only that, but it makes it difficult for allies of the LGBTQ community to stand up and support this cause when they also face oppression.

I have been captain of our women’s tennis team since my sophomore year, and have experienced homophobic behavior from my teammates on many occasions. Each time I hear it, I’m frustrated more because we are oppressing a group of people, a group of people who just want to be accepted for who they are. Don’t we all want to be accepted? Isn’t this the acceptance that we search for; isn’t this what causes us to dress a certain way, or do certain things? We are all closeted when we are hiding parts of ourselves in fear of what others may think. But why are we hiding? Does being straight make you any more or less of who you are? No, because being straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, or questioning is just something you are, it is not who you are. Being gay doesn’t make you a terrible person the same way it doesn’t make you a great person. Being straight doesn’t make you a terrible person, the same way it doesn’t make you a great person. Your sexual orientation, or gender identity does not automatically determine who you are, the way you act will decide that.

I am so excited to help bring Athlete Ally to USC Aiken. I want all of our athletes to feel accepted and safe on our campus. I hope all of our sports teams, administrators, and fans can come together and see that we want athletes on our teams, and not sexual orientations and gender identities. We will recruit and play our athletes based off of their playing ability; we will support our athletes because of their sportsmanship and effort. We want all of our athletes who play currently to know that USC Aiken is a place where they can come as they are, and we want future athletes and students to see our campus as that place as well. I hope that USC Aiken will be a place that when someone says “I support gay marriage,” it does not come as a shock, as though something criminal has been said, but something that can be agreed upon. Aiken will be a place where our athletes will be seen as people and not as the sexual orientation or gender recognition they identify with.