This month SobelCo is pleased to highlight Athlete Ally, a New York City-based nonprofit that believes that anyone who wants to participate in sports should be able to do so without discrimination.

Theirs is a unique mission and one that embraces a timely and essential position. 

Sports is recognized universally as one of the most efficient and effective ways to break down barriers and overcome bias. When Michael Jordan seemed to fly through the air on his way to the basket, anyone – in any country around the world – could share in the experience.  Sports is the one area that doesn’t rely on language to be understood – the passion, the energy, and the exquisite skills are universal and accessible to all.  Whether it is soccer, baseball, football, rugby, lacrosse, badminton, volleyball or any of the many other team sports, the focus is not on the differences between the players but on the way they integrate seamlessly as a team with one single objective: to win the game!  

That is why it is so heartbreaking that not everyone has equal access to participate in sports – the one place where artificial barriers should not define opportunities. 

But the fact is that homophobia and transphobia are deeply rooted in the games we play. To turn this around, Athlete Ally has been working to create LGBTQ inclusive athletic environments, encouraging athletes, teams and leagues to use their platforms and visibility to mobilize support for LGBTQ equality.

Under the guidance of Founder and Executive Director Hudson Taylor, they are well on their way to making this a reality.

In college, Taylor was both a thespian and a Division One wrestler – a rare combination of traits for any one person to have! As a theater major and a three-time All-American wrestler ranked second in the country, he was trying to juggle two very different worlds. He wanted to speak out publicly about his support for the LGBTQ community, and when he did, he was surprised – not at the pushback received from other wrestlers, but from the support from thousands of athletes and their families who appreciated his openness.

He decided that if he could impact thousands as a college wrestler, then enlisting the help of pro athletes and teams with national and global platforms would be a game-changer! And that is when he launched Athlete Ally.  

Taylor assembled a powerful and energetic leadership team, and sought guidance from athletes and athletic professionals across sports and across the country. Athlete Ally then began the work of educating athletic communities, and influencing and changing embedded sports policies.

Before change can take place, those involved must understand the obstacles to inclusion that LGBTQ people face in sports. Along with providing training programs for individual players and institutions, Athlete Ally is applying pressure on the global sports governing bodies to listen to the lived experiences of LGBTQ athletes, to best ensure consistent and fair policies.  They advocate for ending discriminatory laws and policies, and help shape laws and policies to welcome and include all athletes.

While much work lies ahead, all of the partners at Athlete Ally can proudly point to these critical victories:

  • Creating the landmark campaign, Principle 6, which successfully lobbied the International Olympic Committee to include sexual orientation in the Olympic Charter.
  • Co-authoring the NCAA’s first-ever policy and resource guide on LGBTQ issues for all coaches, athletes, and administrators.
  • Working with the NBA, NCAA, and ACC on their historic decisions to move the competitions from North Carolina in the wake of anti-LGBTQ law HB2.
  • Launching Champions of Inclusion, the first-ever free, comprehensive online curriculum for coaches on developing inclusive athletic spaces.
  • Mobilizing over 200 professional, Olympic and Paralympic athletes as Athlete Ally Pro Ambassadors, using their platforms to speak out in support of the LGBTQ community and mobilize their fans to do the same.

In addition, Athlete Ally launched the historic Athletic Equality Index, the ranking system developed as a way to measure LGBTQ inclusion policies and practices in athletic spaces. This first-of-its-kind inaugural report provides a comprehensive look at how member programs of the NCAA Power Five conferences are supporting their LGBTQ student-athletes, coaches, administrators, staff, and fans. To do this, a weighted scale was developed that scored the implementation and accessibility of nine critically important LGBTQ-inclusive policies and best practices.  

To learn more, please visit the website at  www.athleteally.org, and follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.