When I was in high school, I marked the time by sports seasons: soccer in the fall, basketball after Thanksgiving and softball only a few weeks after my beloved Yankees required pitchers and catchers to show up in Tampa for spring training. My teammates were hugely important to me, and Wednesdays and Saturdays were always game days. But I was closeted and worried. I thought that if I were found out, I'd lose my place on the team -- if not officially, then certainly in terms of my teammates' camaraderie. And that worry always stood between me and being fully at ease and fully myself.
So imagine my excitement last year when I met Megan Rapinoe, an out U.S. Olympian and an international soccer star, on set to shoot an AOL "You've Got..." video with GLSEN and the Ad Council shortly before she headed off to the London Olympics. Megan lit up as she described the excitement of international competition and the thrill of playing, and winning, with her teammates and friends. When you are truly yourself and comfortable with your teammates, she told us, great things can happen. For Megan, being out is part of that freedom. And when you're comfortable with yourself and respected by your team, your confidence can turn into excellence on the field. Soccer fans around the world saw the results vividly on display at the Olympics, where Megan's creativity starred in the U.S. women's march to gold.
Over the past two years a remarkable number of athletes have stepped forward in support of LGBT equality, speaking out for marriage equality, standing up against anti-LGBT bullying and violence or simply coming out themselves to help pave the way for others. Each announcement has made headlines, which is unsurprising, given the place of athletes in our society and the pervasive and unthinking anti-LGBT language that is commonplace in sports.
Megan represents what is possible when LGBT athletes are supported and respected, but it is heartbreaking to think of the energy, creativity and potential excellence still being wasted by fear, and the barriers that that fear poses to the health of students who would rather hide out in the nurse's office or skip school than have to go to gym.
As you might expect, locker rooms remain the site on K-12 campuses that LGBT students fear most. (Still, 23 percent of LGBT students report participation in school sports.) Physical education remains an important requirement in K-12 education, but it is also a source of torment rather than healthy learning.
That's why GLSEN launched Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project, and why we encourage the thousands of schools participating in GLSEN's No Name Calling Week this week to include physical education in their activities. We even created a special Changing the Game lesson plan to help physical education teachers and coaches bring the week's message of respect, kindness and inclusion to some of the spaces that LGBT students fear most.
There is a spot for everyone on the team with GLSEN and Megan working to make physical education and school sports more respectful and inclusive of everyone. Watch Megan's AOL "You've Got..." video, share it with your friends and tell us why you support Megan's message. And the next time you see Megan's excellence in action, remember to celebrate the freedom that makes that creative brilliance possible, and join with us in our efforts to make that freedom a reality for students everywhere, season after season.