As they walked to practice early Thursday morning, athletes had the opportunity to show their support for their LGBT teammates.
Athletes and Allies at Yale, a group that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes on varsity and club sports teams, held its first annual Step Up as an Ally Day at the entrance to Payne Whitney Gym this week. The group received signatures from 230 athletes on 41 teams who pledged to acknowledge publicly their support of Athletes and Allies, not to assume their teammates are straight and not to use phrases like “That’s so gay.” The goal of the event was to raise awareness for the existence of allies, or straight athletes who support their LGBT teammates, the event’s organizers said.
“There have always been athletes that are supportive of their teammates… regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Stefan Palios ’14, co-coordinator of Athletes and Allies. “But we gave them an opportunity to be vocal about it in a safe space [with Step Up as an Ally Day].”
Providing a public forum for allies to display their support helps closeted and out athletes feel more comfortable, Palios said, adding that in the absence of teammates who are openly LGBT, allies can be a great asset to a team.
Athletes and Allies, which has been intermittently active on campus since it was founded by members of the varsity men’s fencing team in 2009, aims to confront “homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia in Yale club and varsity athletics,” Palios said. The group originally met once a year to discuss LGBT-relevant issues, but began to meet regularly as a club with 15 to 30 active members last fall, co-coordinator Katie Chockley ’14 said. All members of the group are athletes, including the group’s three leaders: Palios, Chockley and Will Childs-Klein ’15 play track and field, rugby and basketball, respectively.
While the group has existed as a support system for LGBT athletes in the past, new events such as Step Up as an Ally Day expand the “level of support to include the whole team,” said Kristen Proe ’14, an ally on the varsity track and field team.
“People are accepting, it’s just that now they’re allowed to be vocal about it,” Palios said. “It’s very hard to be the lone person that stands up and shouts, ‘I’m an ally!’ but with an event like this, you know you’re not alone as an ally.”
Palios said he has noticed the positive effects of the group’s efforts in decreased use of homophobic language and a general increased awareness among athletes. Since the start of the school year, a third of Yale Varsity athletes have become Ally members and “a few more athletes have come out this year,” Palios said.
Homophobia has historically been a problem on athletic teams, Chockley said, and athletes often presume their teammates are straight. The group aims to change these stereotypes and challenge perceptions that gay men are not athletic or masculine or that a sports team cannot be composed of many LGBT members, she added.
“It’s very hard to come out to varsity teams,” Chockley said. “I would have really appreciated this event happening my freshman year… [The event] helps closeted athletes know that it’s okay.”
Four athletes who signed the pledge today said creating an environment that supports all teammates’ sexualities fosters team cohesion.
Jenna Hessert ’14, an ally and track and field athlete, said signing the pledge will encourage other straight athletes to become allies too.
“I think it’s a good type of peer pressure,” Hessert said. “Once one person says I’m an ally, then other teammates will [follow suit] and it just snowballs from there.”
Athletes and Allies’ next major event will take place during the IvyQ conference, a gathering for LGBTQ students at Ivy League universities to be hosted at Yale this February.