Wednesday is Pride Night at CenturyLink Field as the Sounders host Orlando City (TICKETS) to kick off the week of Pride Night matches across Seattle professional sports culminating in Sunday's Seattle Pride parade. One of the easiest ways you can get involved is by pledging yourself as an Athlete Ally.
Founded by Hudson Taylor in 2011, Athlete Ally works to ensure an open, welcoming athletic community for LGBT athletes and fans.
Peters will be in Seattle for Tuesday's historic joint press conference with Seattle's professional sports teams in support of Athlete ally and LGBT inclusion, and we caught up with Hudson to talk more about Athlete Ally.
SFC.com: Tell us a little bit more about Athlete Ally
HT: I was a wrestler at the University of Maryland and a theater major, so I grew up in two very different cultures: one where I had LGBT friends who were being treated equality and with respect, and the other where I had teammates who were using homophobic language pretty regularly. Seeing that juxtaposition made me want to start speaking out, so my senior year I started wearing an LGBT equality sticker on my headgear and in response to that I got thousands of emails from closeted athletes and that made me realize if I can make that impact as a wrestler and we can get other teams, gues and athletes to speak out it would really make a difference in making sport a more welcoming place
For athlete ally, our mission is to end homophobia and transphobia in sports. There are three ways in which we operate. The first is through education so who needs to be educated that isn’t. The second is policy change internal to sports so the goal is to create inclusive policies in every athletic community throughout the country. The third area of our work is athlete activism understanding that members of the athletic community have a tremendous amount of cultural capital. If we can get the sports community to be proactive on LGBT respect and inclusion it can really change hearts and minds outside of sports.
SFC.com: It seems like sports brings out the best and the worst of bullying and LGBT rights and that’s one of the things that inspired you to launch Athlete Ally...
HT: At it’s very best, sport is a place where everyone can maximize their potential regardless of their background, orientation or experience. Sport should be blind to our differences and be a place where people can be themselves. At it’s best, sport can be the most inclusive space, but often times sport is still a competitive reward structure so there are many ways in which sporting communities teach each other to put your peers and your opponents down and to judge each other not on the content of their character but based on physical attributes. A lot of this work is really trying to spread awareness because I think in a lot of athletic context, people still don’t realize that the intent of their language is different than the impact of their language. If we can make more people in sports aware of how their behavior and conduct is negatively impacting the experiences of LGBT people in sports, I think we can start to make sports that space that we know it can and should be.
SFC.com: It seems like Athlete Ally is in many ways about the straight community and educating fans who may not understand how their language and actions impact each other...
HT: Athlete Ally is really built on a simple philosophy, that there’s never been a successful social justice movement for a minority group without the support of the majority. If we’re actually going to end a form of oppression or discrimination, it can’t just be the responsibility of those who are impacted by it who shoulder the responsibility of ending it. I’d say also that when you look at any culture, the perception of that culture is in many ways defined by the majority.
If LGBT athletes don’t feel comfortable coming out in sports, that is in part defined by the majority of people in sports. If we don’t have allied coaches, owners and fans, then the LGBT community is going to assume that the majority does not support them. I would also just say to put the onus on somebody to come out is a big burden to bear in sports especially when you have coaches and athletes whose livelihood is dependent on their ability to play.
Whereas speaking out as an Ally, really doesn’t take much work. It’s not hard to try to do your part to make your team or athletic community a more welcoming one. I get a little fired up when I go to so many schools and talk to kids and ask them how many of you hear homophobic language and every hand goes up, but then when I ask how many here have heard somebody speak out against it and every hand goes down. I think if everyone understood the role they’re playing in making sport either a welcoming or unwelcoming space they would understand they have a responsibility to make their community a more welcoming one.
SFC.com: How inspiring has it been to see Athlete Ally grow to the level it has?
HT: Every day I’m so honored to be able to do this work and work with so many inspiring people. In the last year alone, we’ve seen more athletes come out, more allies speak out and more teams and leagues take a stand than any other time in history. Everything that is happening in the sports space in many ways is still historic. This partnership with the Sounders and Seattle sports teams is, I think, the first time multiple professional teams in the same community have come together to make a joint statement around LGBT respect and inclusion. I feel tremendously lucky to work with so many leaders in the sports world to again make sport what we know it can be.
SFC.com: It seems like the soccer community has been really great and proactive in the support for the LGBT community. We've seen the men's and women's national teams wearing jerseys and t-shirts in support of equality and doing all the things that Athlete Ally stands for...
HT: Absolutely. You see so many MLS teams, NWSL teams doing pride nights. When we’re looking at a league’s commitment to the LGBT community, we’re looking at two things: how are you being proactively supportive and how are you being reactively supportive. In my experience, soccer, MLS and NWSL have done a tremendous job at being proactively visible and vocal about making their sport a place where LGBT fans and athletes are accepted and respected.
SFC.com: How excited are you for this week in Seattle?
HT: I couldn’t be more excited. The thing about sports is whether you’re focused on one sport or many sports, athletics is a place of profound competition. Everyone wants to be the best at something whatever that is, but to be able to take a step back and say whether folks are competing or not, our values are the same, that’s a really special thing. To have all the Seattle sports teams come together and really stand united in their support for the LGBT community is a real honor to be a part of.
SFC.com: How can Sounders fans get involved?
HT: Check out athleteally.org, you can sign the Athlete Ally pledge. Something we spend a lot of energy on is making people aware that everybody can do something and it starts with a personal commitment. I would say sign the Athlete Ally pledge to commit to making your athletic community a more welcoming one and beyond that, I’d say reach out to your alma mater, your old coach or P.E. teacher and make sure that your school is doing what they can to invest in LGBT education.