Supporting Athletes at Yale, a support group for LGBTQ student-athletes formed by six male student-athletes in October 2015, has grown to include almost 20 members this year.
SAY provides resources for LGBTQ athletes on campus including confidential advice related to LGBTQ issues in athletics and holds monthly meetings in both mixed- and single-gender settings. This year, the group has also worked to establish communications with coaches and captains of Yale’s varsity teams as well as establish resources for recruited athletes.
“It is so important for anyone who is questioning their sexuality to be able to put faces to the LGBTQ community,” said Lena Munzer ’17, a guard on the women’s basketball team and SAY member. “I hope that by being a part of SAY, I put one more face on the LGBTQ athletic community that helps to normalize these experiences into the rest of Yale athletics and the University in general.”
SAY was initially formed by six athletes, including men’s golfer Jake Leffew ’19, men’s rugby team member Luc Ryan-Schreiber ’17 and distance runner Timothy Cox ’17. Brian Tompkins, senior associate athletic director of student services, helped obtain administrative support for the group.
The group grew as the founding members contacted other members of the LGBTQ student-athlete community and interested athletes reached out to express interest. SAY now includes athletes of all genders who play a wide range of sports, and meets once or twice each month.
“We meet up to talk about our experiences coming out to teammates, families and friends,” Leffew said. “Some of us had it easier, some of us had it harder, but we all speak pretty similar languages. We’ve bonded over that.”
SAY runs an email account, email@example.com, a Facebook account and a page on the Yale Athletics Student Services website where student-athletes can reach out to join the group or seek support. Tompkins praised SAY, saying it created a “supportive presence” for LGBTQ athletes, as the group works to establish an environment in which the athletes feel respected by peers, coaches and the athletics administration.
To kick off the year’s publicity efforts, the group released a video on the Yale Athletics YouTube channel on Oct. 4 to promote inclusivity as part of the nationwide You Can Play Project, a nationwide campaign dedicated to eliminating homophobia in sports.
In the coming months, SAY hopes to hold a discussion at a monthly all-coach meeting and open communications with next year’s team captains. According to Ryan-Schreiber, SAY hopes to get all members of the Yale athletic community “on the same page” in terms of discussing LGBTQ issues appropriately and ensuring LGBTQ student-athletes feel comfortable on their teams.
“For captains and coaches, we want to emphasize that they cannot assume heterosexuality and should expect that it is likely that at least one of their athletes or teammates could be queer,” Cox said. “We would like to see this be extended to the recruiting process, too.”
According to Ryan-Schreiber, SAY has been working with Tompkins to develop training for coaches and captains and provide information to recruits on LGBTQ resources at Yale, as well as contact information for LGBTQ student-athletes who can provide support.
In addition, SAY plans to begin reaching out to the general Yale community this spring. In late April, SAY and the Whaling Crew will hold outreach events at softball and men’s rugby games. SAY is also planning another event in advance of Pride Month in June in collaboration with the LGBTQ Co-op, the date of which has not yet been set.
In the future, SAY may seek to expand its efforts across the Ivy League. According to Ryan-Schreiber, the group has considered collaborating with the annual IvyQ conference, an LGBTQ symposium for Ivy League students, or creating a separate forum for LGBTQ athletes across the Ivy League so that students can share ideas between schools, some of which — Brown, Cornell and Harvard among them — have comparable student groups.
For now, SAY’s primary goal remains providing support for LGBTQ student-athletes and promoting inclusivity within Yale athletics and in the broader community.
“Going forward, LGBTQ athletes still face challenges of having to tell their teams, who typically still assume heterosexuality, that they’re queer or gay,” said a female athlete and member of SAY who requested anonymity. “Getting more teams involved in SAY, either as members or as more vocal allies of the queer community in general, will be crucial for incoming queer athletes and those questioning their sexualities to feel supported and not stigmatized.”
SAY replaced another support group, Athletes and Allies, which stopped meeting in 2015.