YOU Belong hosted its first ever camp for young LGBT athletes last week. Darnell L. Moore reports, in the process reminding us that LGBT youth belong in sports, too.
In the minds of many, sports tend to be imagined as male-centered activities dominated by hyper-masculine, straight, and able-bodied people. Despite the presence of women and LGBT and disabled and femme-performing (female and male) athletes within a number of sports, it continues to be the case that the proverbial “athlete” is still imagined as a straight “tough” man. But not any longer. Times are changing.
The recent work of LGBT advocates like Anna Aegenes (GO Athletes), Patrick Burke (You Can Play Project), Cyd Ziegler (OutSports), and Hudson Taylor (Athlete Ally) among many others, have underscored the need for inclusion and safe space within non-professional and professional sports environments. Moreover, the recent public media spotlight on gay and lesbian athletes like NBA player Jason Collins and WNBA player Brittney Griner have proven what many of us have always known to be true, namely, that all athletes are not all men and many are not all straight. In addition, my business partner, Former NFL player turned LGBT advocate, Wade Davis II, and I also acknowledge that athletes are not all adults. Our young people—a population often rendered invisible in the struggle for LGBT inclusion in sports—matter and need advocates just as well.
Our initiative, the YOU Belong LGBTA Youth Sports and Leadership Development Camp, was developed in response to the needs of LGBT youth and straight allies ages 13-24. The YOU Belong initiative is a series of 4-day comprehensive sports instruction and leadership development clinics that will be offered throughout the US quarterly. The initiative was launched in Chicago at the Center on Halsted on July 25th. This camp, the first of its kind in the country, seeks to create a safe space where LGBT youth and straight allies can become well-rounded athletes, leaders, and human beings.
At our inaugural camp, we were thrilled to host Former Chicago Bull Bill Cartwright, and current NBA players Jason and Jarron Collins, as well as WNBA star Tangela Smith, and Mixed Martial Arts Celebrity Fallon Fox. And while we were gathered to offer young people safe and affirming space to sharpen their athletic skills, it was also apparent, once again, that the multiple needs of young LGBT people often go unrecognized. While we were thrilled to offer space for athletic and leadership development, it is also true that our young people need advocates to ensure that they can excel in other areas of their lives as well. Our young people need housing support, career development, mentors, and so much else. But ultimately, in tandem with these resources, our young people need to know that they belong!