Ursinus LGBTQ athletes speak out

Xichang Wu

xiwu@ursinus.edu

     The Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) will be holding an hour-long panel discussion in the Institute for Inclusion and Equity (IIE) this Wednesday, April 18 at 8 p.m. The panel will feature four openly gay Ursinus athletes: Emily Reeve, Craig Lauer, Kevin Fraser, and Faith Carson.

     “The Olympics had a lot of LGBT visibility this year with figure skater Adam Rippon,” said Robin Gow, the president of GSA, explaining the inspirations for this panel.

     Gow added, “EJ Madarasz [Assistant Director of Residence Life], was at out faculty panel last semester, she shared her interesting experience as an out athlete, and also [told us that] for her master thesis, she focused on studying queer athletes.”

     After talking more with Madarasz on the subject, Gow thought it was a good time to discuss topics surrounding gay athletes on campus on a larger scale.

     Gow admitted that it was initially difficult to pull the panel together as he started to plan for the event, but the process became easier after he talked to some of the gay athletes.

     “Everyone was so supportive,” said Gow.

     Gow was very conscious of potentially tokenizing the out athletes. He didn’t want athletes to feel obligated to speak just because of their identity and sexuality. Yet, Gow explained that almost everyone he spoke to was very approachable and enthusiastic about this panel.

     Madarasz, who helped to inspire Gow to organize the event, said, “There are so many stereotypes surrounding the athletic world. Some gay people may not [want] to come out because they think their team is going to stereotype them, but maybe the team won’t . . . a lot of time it’s a leap of faith on both sides.”

     Emily Reeve, a junior rugby player, opened up about her high school experience as a gay athlete. She explained that not many athletes were out in her high school, and “If you tapped [someone] on the shoulder in a wrong way or look[ed] at people in a wrong way” you could stir a certain level of discomfort or awkwardness.

     In high school, Reeve explained that she was afraid that if she missed a goal or made a mistake in the field, people might use her queer identity against her. She also felt a lot of social pressure to “act straight,” which in one way or another influenced her athletic performance, because she wanted to fit in with everyone else.

     Reeve believes the lack of gay role models also played a part in this psychology, and she is really appreciative of the professional athletes who have come out in recent years. She thinks that these professional players can be role models for later generations of gay athletes. Reeve believes Ursinus is a much safer environment than her high school, however, and now enjoys the accepting environment that college provides. She even suggested that gay athletes who are not yet open about their identity come out to the community.

     Craig Lauer supported this picture of Ursinus as a safe environment for gay athletes. “The most loveable weirdos in the world” are the words Lauer, a sophomore distance runner, used to describe his fellow teammates on the Ursinus cross-country team.

     Lauer considers himself lucky to have never been asked to conform to a stereotype of masculinity for his sport.

     Said Lauer, “The track team here at Ursinus was a group of the most supportive people I’ve ever met, they are so kind and make me feel welcomed and accepted.”

     Similar to Reeve, Lauer’s high school experience was not as free and accepting as college. He talked about a time when his teammate overheard another teams’ coach tell a student to “not let the gay kids beat you.”

     Lauer won that race but was upset that teachers and coaches would impose a problematic and homophobic masculinity on young teenagers. He was worried that the student the coach spoke to could be a closeted member of the queer community.

     Lauer believes gay stereotypes are not healthy for athletic environments. “I know I shouldn’t, but I’m always worried that people might not assume that I’m a serious competitor if they find out that I’m gay.”

     This is one of the concerns that EJ Madarasz addresses in her master’s thesis. According to Madarasz, “Sports are very gendered.”

     Madarasz thinks that it’s very important to have systems in place to help queer athletes. She created a program that teaches coaches to be more inclusive of gay athletes. For example, Madarasz suggests that instead of talking to students about girlfriends or boyfriends, coaches should use inclusive terms like partners or significant other to describe athlete’s partner. The same method should also apply to teammates, by avoiding saying things like “everyone brings a girl to the party” to make out and closeted gay teammates feel really welcomed.