GO! Athletes Empower Out Student Athletes With New Site
The nation’s only national network of LGBT athletes, Generation Out Athletes (GO! Athletes), has moved forward with a new website, new name, and a reinvigoration to continue its mission of reaching athletes across the country. The first organization of its kind, GO! Athletes was formed in 2008 by LGBT student athletes with the help of noted out athletes such as John Amaechi, Pat Griffin, Jeff Sheng, and Ted Rybka, and has continued to evolve in its mission to be a voice and an advocate for increased acceptance in the sports communities for all sexual orientations and gender identities.
The group’s new website is something of a symbol of revisiting efforts from the past, examining progress that has been made in terms of acceptance in the sports world, as well as recognizing the pivotal point we are at in supporting the athletes in our community. The website was given a kickoff event at the University of Pennsylvania last Thursday, with special guest Joanna Lohman there to celebrate the group’s efforts.
"If we live in constant fear of what makes us different," Lohman declared. "We’ll never embrace the power that we each possess." This is an appropriate summary statement for what many of the audience members and group participants felt the vision of GO! Athletes should be.
Beyond the heavy lifting of ending widespread discrimination in sports, a sentiment that seemed equally important to those in attendance was to make sure that young athletes are given the opportunity to reach their full potential regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
On the website, student athlete Jennelle Devits shares her story about the difference it made in her life to be surrounded by supportive teammates in high school, and later, in college.
"Luckily, I was not the only ’out’ LGBT person in the locker room," said Devits. "In fact, I had an ’out’ head coach. The environment she created was welcoming and inclusive. She made sure that respect was the number one ingredient in our team."
Confronting Stigma and Homophobia in Athletics
Much of the event was dedicated to confronting the challenges that LGBT athletes are currently facing. Homophobia and discrimination is still a rampant danger for athletes, and with many of the athletic role models in the industry often clashing with matters of sexuality, it can be a very real deterrent to young gay athletes to pursue their dream.
Lohman is aware of this and spoke of how exhausting it can be to live such a public life as an out athlete and noted her confusion as to why it is such a source of contention and speculation. But her presence at the event was a strong reminder that despite such draining constraints that so often bind our community’s athletes, it is very possible to go on to be a happy, successful LGBT person without giving up sports.
Along with addressing the current obstacles they are facing, the executive members of the newly re-launched group took time to discuss what some of their goals are regarding more tangible actions. Sean Smith, who serves on the Board of Directors for GO! Athletes, talked about wanting to be more of a catalyst for conversation and constructive dialogue rather than a constant policing force.
"If you need to start a conversation with your athletic department or sports team, then we can help you do that," Smith said. "We just want to be the mentors to help get the conversation started."
At a time where so much discrimination can be traced back to a lack of education and communication, a group like GO! Athletes has a potential to make a tangible impact on the way that athletic organizations approach their LGBT members, which could then have a strong effect on the way that athletes interact with each other.
For more information on the re-launched GO! Athletes, visit their new website www.goathletes.org.