Two years after six male student-athletes joined forces to create Supporting Athletes at Yale, an informal organization for LGBTQ athletes, the group has grown significantly, from just a handful of male students to more than 20 members.
Today, the group maintains an informal structure, including a GroupMe chat to maintain casual conversation among members. And it has also offered a model for other organizations established by student-athletes, including the Yale Women’s Athletic Council, which discusses issues that affect female athletes and met for the first time in January.
“Before the [Student Athletes at Yale] started there was no sense of community for queer student-athletes,” said co-founder Timothy Cox ’17, who ran track and field. “The only other out athlete I knew was a woman in my year on the basketball team. I always felt accepted and loved on my team, and had even talked to my coach about it during the recruiting process, but it felt pretty isolating to only be able to name one other varsity athlete out of 800 who was out.”
After initially meeting informally for an extended period, the group was then able to secure administrative support from former soccer coach — and current senior associate athletic director of student services — Brian Tompkins.
“The initial support came in the form of listening to the needs and concerns of some of our LGBTQ athletes,” Tompkins said. “There were several meetings to imagine what kinds of collaborations we might enter into to make LGBTQ athletes feel welcome and supported within Yale Athletics.”
During the early months of Student Athletes at Yale, group members emphasized the importance of reaching out and connecting with incoming LGBTQ recruits to ease their transition into college life. That policy has helped contribute to the increase in membership.
“Our most basic goals are to support those who are struggling to be themselves around their teammates, friends and coaches, and to help them address any other subsequent issues,” said co-founder Jake Leffew ’19, who is on the men’s golf team. “We meet roughly once a month and talk about the things going on in our lives. It’s very relaxed. I feel like an informal setting is more effective because, after all, we are just fellow student-athletes trying to look out for each other.”
Student Athletes at Yale maintains a close relationship with the Athletics Department. And queer student-athletes involved in the organization said that collaboration has been beneficial to the group.
“The group gave me a sense of community that was severely lacking,” Cox said. “Yale has visible and prominent gay groups in almost every social sphere, except athletics. Statistically, there are probably dozens of athletes who are closeted, so it has been very rewarding to see the group grow. Seeing people’s individual journeys, especially [those of] my own teammates, has been immensely gratifying.”
Bill Gallagher | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Feb. 28: A previous version of this article said that the name of the queer athletes group is Student Athletes at Yale. In fact, it is Supporting Athletes at Yale.