To highlight the voices of Athlete Ally Ambassadors across the country, Kyle James of Ithaca College is leading an interview series to expand upon why these young LGBTQ activists feel passionate about inclusion in sports and beyond, and what the climate is like at their institution for student-athletes who identify as LGBTQ.
This week, Ambassadors from Washington University in St. Louis speak about their desire to benefit the LGBTQ community at their institution. This week, we hear from Elizabeth Handschy, a senior Women’s and Gender and Sexuality Studies/Anthropology major and Cross Country/Track athlete, Austin Vanbastelaer, a senior Political Science/English Language major and Cross Country athlete, and Lauren Yung, a junior Global and Health Environment/Healthcare Management major and Volleyball player.
KJ : What made you three want to form an Athlete Ally chapter at your school?
LH: Being an athlete and having a busy schedule always prevented me from being involved in other LGBT organizations. When I became a junior and eventually a senior, I felt like it was too late to get involved and other athletes that I talked to felt the same way. Also, our athletic center was probably the least safe space for LGBTQ athletes. There are no gender-neutral bathrooms and I wasn’t sure if all coaches would be supportive of LGBT athletes.
AV: I would echo what Lizzy just said and also say that we looked at it as an opportunity to be progressive by catching up our athletic department, which still had an archaic view [on LGBTQ issues], with the rest of campus.
LY: I think that the intersection of LGBT people and sports isn’t something that is always talked about openly. I recently had the opportunity to have that discussion in an open environment and it was really cool to see how people responded once the conversation was started.
KJ: I know how hard it is to start that conversation of LGBTQ issues and sports as well. Speaking of that, how do you feel the athletic environment at Washington University in St. Louis is in terms of accepting LGBTQ athletes?
LH: When we approached the Asst. Athletic Director, he said that he didn’t know that saying nothing (about LGBT issues) would put forth an air of negativity. He didn’t know that we had to come out and say that the athletic department is a positive, supportive space. A lot of coaches thought the same way and were willing to become allies after becoming educated.
KJ: That’s really good to hear! I’m glad to see that the coaches were more willing to become allies after becoming more educated. It just goes to show how important talking with them is!
KJ: So now that you have an Athlete Ally chapter established, what programs and events do you all have planned for the future?
LH: Our chapter meets the first Monday of every month and discusses different issues in the LGBT and athletic communities. This month we’re talking about different LGBT things such as definitions and how to be allies.
LY: We’re also in the works of getting a competition started that would require different athletic teams to show their support by going to different events or games, showing their LGBT support, and seeing who has the biggest involvement at the end of competition. By going to the events, you would get points for your team. The points would then get divided amongst how many team members you have, that way the golf team and football team can compete against each other. The team with the highest point average at the end of the year will win.
KJ: Okay, now probably my favorite question: If you could meet any of the Athlete Ally Pro Ambassadors, who would you choose and why?
AV: I would choose Chris Kluwe or Brendon Ayanbadejo – Chris expresses his opinions well and is extremely sarcastic and funny. I appreciate the fact that he and Brendon will stand up in a sport like football and say these things that support LGBT athletes.
LH: I want to meet Hudson Taylor. I would love to hear about his journey on how he got Athlete Ally started. I would also want to meet Brittney Griner because I really respect her as a women’s basketball player and how she handles all the negative things that surround her as being an out athlete.
LY: I wouldn’t say I’d want to meet any particular person. I would really want to meet any of them because I respect all of the allies and what they do.
LH: Austin and I were just talking and we also really like Nick Symmonds. I recently saw a photo shoot with that he did with his rabbit for PETA and I thought it was it was really cool.
KJ: Nick Symmonds is awesome! I love his pictures with his rabbit on Instagram and everything he does as an ally in the sporting world is amazing as well. He seems like an awesome person to meet.
KJ: So as you may have heard, Athlete Ally is supporting the “Principle 6” campaign. What are your opinions on the campaign and what’s going on in Russia right now?
AV: I think that it is the responsibility of everyone, not just US, companies or organizations, to be active a solution to problems facing the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. The Olympics are all about egalitarian competition and blending cultural values and I think that all of this should be available to everyone.
KJ: I couldn’t agree more! Is your chapter doing anything to bring awareness to the issue?
LH: We were approached by the International Area Studies Greek chapter, Sigma Iota Rho, to help out with an awareness event for what’s going on the Olympics. We will be helping them get extra money to bring in more money for a speaker and helping out with the event. One of the people we’ve talked about trying to bring is Johnny Weir.
KJ: That’s incredible! That sounds like an unbelievable event, especially if you are able to get Johnny Weir.
LH: Yeah, it would be! Nothing is set in stone and we’re still in the beginning stages of planning the event, but we’re definitely keeping the possibility of trying to bring him in open.
KJ: So is there anything else that I should know about you three or the Athlete Ally chapter in general?
LH: Actually, yes! Over this past summer we collaborated with Safe Zone. One of the things that Safe Zone does is training sessions to get people to be more aware on how to deal with LGBTQ issues. They wanted to start to roll out training for the faculty department and we helped them get their start in the athletic department. It was a pretty brief training, but now we’re working on getting a more extensive one done for the spring.
Kyle James is a sophomore at Ithaca College. He is currently pursuing a B.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications with Minors in Economics and Sport Studies, and is a member of the Ithaca College Honors Program. Kyle is currently the founder and Co-President of the Ithaca College Athlete Ally club.