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VOICES

On And Off The Field, Athlete Ally Works To Promote Equality In Sports

Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally.

CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Athlete Ally.

From the age of six until his mid-20s, Hudson Taylor spent most of his time either in the locker room or on the mat. A competitive wrestler, Hudson grew accustomed to—and tired of—the sexist and homophobic language used among the people he was surrounded by. In high-contact sports like wrestling, Hudson says, the “kneejerk reaction…is to use a homophobic slur to assert your heterosexuality.”

When Hudson wasn’t on the mat or in the locker room, he was in the classroom—as a theater major. His theater community provided an entirely different environment, one of acceptance and welcome. The rift between classroom and mat was creating a rift in Hudson’s life, and he decided he needed to speak out.

Hudson, who is not gay, started wearing an LGBT equality sticker on his wrestling headgear and received the support of his wrestling coach, who set up an interview for him.  After that interview, Hudson received upwards of 2,000 emails from closeted athletes with letters of gratitude, questions, and other stories that left Hudson wondering: “Imagine if I had been a football player, or a team, or a league.”

Hudson Taylor. Photo courtesy of Athlete Ally.

Hudson Taylor. Photo courtesy of Athlete Ally.

The idea that larger groups of LGBT activists and advocates, speaking up in athletic forums, could work to change culture in sports eventually took root and became Athlete Ally—a non-profit organization dedicated to ending homophobia and transphobia in sports. Through education, the provision of resources, raising public awareness, and mobilization, Hudson believes that Athlete Ally will show that the “values and principles of sport champion equality.”

On the field, representatives for Athlete Ally visit around 40 athletic departments each year to educate coaches on the importance of inclusivity and work to change school policies from the ground up. Through its Sports Inclusion Project, Athlete Ally provides a free survey for athletes, coaches, and school administrators to assess the social climate in college and university athletics programs. For Hudson, the survey results aren’t just a series of data points, but a tool for eliminating plausible deniability. Hudson believes that climate surveys prohibit universities from denying the presence of LGBT athletes on their campuses. From there, the university and Athlete Ally can “formulate a game plan on how to change things,” Hudson says.

Off the field, one of Athlete Ally’s newest projects, Every Fan, seeks to create a more inclusive sporting experience overall by focusing on creating welcoming environments for fans.

To support its efforts both on and off the field, Athlete Ally works with a group of 150 ambassadors who believe in Athlete Ally’s vision for a more accepting, inclusive future. Ambassadors include former NBA player Grant Hill, who now owns the Atlanta Hawks and advocates for LGBT issues in Georgia; Olympic gold medalist and soccer player for FC Kansas City Heather O’Reilly, who works for equality in North Carolina; and professional football player Michael Sam, who famously became the first publicly gay player to be drafted into the NFL in 2014.

In addition to its star-studded ambassador program, Athlete Ally also works closely with universities and grassroots LGBT organizations; recently, like many other organizations, Athlete Ally has had its eye on North Carolina. Through coordination with advocates at Duke University, the University of North Carolina school system, and LGBT organizations on the ground in North Carolina, Athlete Ally is working to combat HB2, the recent anti-transgender legislation passed there.

Hudson believes that sports can be a vehicle for human rights. Unlike other institutions, he says, sports bring people together; they naturally cut across race, religion, country, and other divisions. He says that he “see[s] a lot of barriers being broken almost every other week” for the LGBT community, but there’s still much more to do. And, Hudson adds, Millennials play a huge role in propelling that movement forward.

“Millennials are the first generation to be living in a global village,” Hudson explains. Because of the internet, Hudson says, Millennials—the most supportive generation of LGBT equality—can amplify their voices. “A lot of young people believe that they can change the world…if people organize and mobilize they will change the world.”

You can view the full version of the video below and learn more about Athlete Ally at Invibed.com.

Clarie is an intern with Generation Progress.

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