Yesterday Campus Pride, in partnership with Compete Magazine, published the "Out to Play" list, a compilation of the 10 most LGBT-friendly athletics programs at colleges and universities across the country. The list was collected from nationwide nominations and covered criteria assessing LGBT-inclusion efforts, practices, and policy implementation.
The Out to Play list includes Bates College, Bowdoin College, Bucknell University, Columbia University, Indiana University, Ithaca College, Kennesaw State University, New York University, Stanford University, and Whitman College.
Each school took pioneering steps toward ending homophobia and transphobia in sports over the last year. For example, in April, Jay Hayes, a senior at NYU, directed and starred in an inspiring "It Gets Better" video endorsed by the NYU athletics department. Stanford University made its mark in February when the athletic department welcomed an NCAA-sanctioned speaker to lead a cultural diversity workshop that addressed LGBT issues. This spring, Bates College will host its second annual Athlete Ally Pledge-signing event and rally its entire campus to combat homophobia in sports. Finally, students at Bates, Whitman, and Columbia have established Athlete Ally Ambassador Programs, through which they advocate for equality and respect in sports.
Even more exciting is that these are by no means the only institutions working to improve sports culture. For instance, in the last six months, University of Cincinnati Athlete Ally Ambassador Jenna Heaton has helped 10 varsity teams sign the Athlete Ally Pledge. Other schools like Rutgers University, Penn State, and MIT are also promoting allyship in their athletic departments. Recognizing that today's Out to Play list is only the tip of the iceberg, Campus Pride has great hope for the future.
"For far too long, no one has known the score when it comes to LGBT-inclusion and friendliness in collegiate sports programs," said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, adding, "That changes today." He went on: "LGBT students today are more out and vocal than ever before and those who are also athletes deserve to know which schools and which athletics programs will respect them for who they are. All students deserve the assurance of safety and inclusion both in the classroom and on the field."
In addition, the schools captured by the Out to Play list provide colleges and universities with a much-needed paradigm for progressive sports programming at a time when several athletic departments are publicly struggling with anti-LGBT discrimination.
Take, for example, the University of Nebraska, where athletic administrators have come under fire for the anti-gay comments of assistant football coach Ron Brown. Brown recently testified in front of the Omaha City Council that LGBT citizens should not receive anti-discrimination protection under a proposed ordinance. He's gone on record many times opposing anti-discrimination policies, and as far as to say that it would be an honor to be fired from the university for his comments. In response to an Associated Press question about Brown, head Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini said, "I hired [Brown] because I believe in him as a football coach and a guy who has positive impact on kids."
What coach Pelini's comment misses (and the Out to Play schools grasp) is that coaching means positively impacting all athletes, not just straight ones. Sportspersonship is not selective; it does not discriminate, and it cannot exist alongside homophobia or transphobia.
Hats off to the Out to Play schools for leading the way in this space, and to Campus Pride for celebrating their progress.