June 20, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
Team DC participates in Nike’s LGBT sports summit
Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Sports

Les Johnson and Ashland Johnson march in Portland Pride Parade (Photo courtesy of Cyd Zeigler, Jr.)

A transgender former George Washington University basketball player was among the nearly 30 people who took part in an LGBT sports summit at Nike’s world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., from June 14-17.

Kye Allums, who came out as trans in a 2010 interview with the LGBT sports website Outsports.com, joined Team DC President Les Johnson and National Center for Lesbian Rights policy counsel Ashland Johnson, who also lives in D.C., at the confab. Campus Pride, ESPN, Nike and the National Collegiate Athletic Association were among the 20 organizations that sent representatives to the summit.

During the three-day gathering, participants drafted four broad goals on which they will work over the next four years to end harassment and discrimination against LGBT athletes and coaches. These include collaborations with major professional sports leagues to make them more LGBT inclusive, increased visibility of out collegiate athletes and coaches and the implementation of LGBT-inclusive policies in at least five adult and youth recreational leagues. The fourth objective is to have at least two million young people hear what summit organizers describe as an inclusive definition of “athletic champion.”

“We were definitely able to come up with a beginning and a start on how to approach that in pre-defining what a champion really is,” said Allums, whose foundation I M Enough seeks to support both trans and non-trans athletes through scholarships. He also seeks to create trans visibility through photography, art and storytelling.

“Just because you win a championship doesn’t mean you’re a champion,” added Allums. “A champion is someone that treats their teammates with respect and allows them to be whoever they want to be regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, size and age.”

Outsports.com co-founder Cyd Zeigler, Jr., National Center for Lesbian Rights Sports Director Helen Carroll and Pat Griffin of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network conceived of the summit nine months ago in response to what they described as a lack of communication and cohesion among groups fighting homophobia and transphobia in sports.

“I wanted to get everybody in the room to talk about this and work through whatever’s stopping us from working together as a team,” Zeigler told the Blade.

LGBT athletes have gained more visibility in recent years with former NFL player Esera Tuaolo, former NBA center John Amaechi, Women’s National Basketball Association player Sheryl Swoopes and most recently former Redskin Wade Davis publicly discussing their sexual orientation.

Former NFL player David Kopay in 1975 became one of the first professional athletes to come out. Former professional tennis players Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova publicly disclosed their sexual orientation in 1981. Olympic diver Greg Louganis followed suit in 1994.

In spite of these out athletes, LGBT visibility remains an issue in collegiate and professional sports.

Sherri Murrell, the head women’s basketball coach at Portland State University who attended the summit, remains the only out lesbian coach in NCAA Division I women’s basketball. Kirk Walker, head softball coach at Oregon State University, is also gay.

Several high-profile lawsuits in recent years indicate that lesbian athletes in particular continue to face steep hurdles in both collegiate and professional sports. These include former Penn State women’s basketball player Jennifer Harris’ allegations in a federal lawsuit that NCLR filed on her behalf in 2006 that then-head coach Rene Portland kicked her off the team because of her perceived sexual orientation. Harris subsequently reached an undisclosed settlement with Portland and then-Penn State athletic director Tim Curley, but the university concluded in a previous report that the coach had subjected her to a “hostile, intimidating and offensive environment.”

“We’re tired of just waiting around and progress being really slow so we got together,” said Johnson, who represented the Federation of Gay Games at the summit. “We’re trying to do something bold and get Nike behind us. And we’ve got some fresh ideas.”

Several summit participants also marched with the Nike contingent in the Portland Pride Parade that coincided with the end of the gathering.

“It’s the Nike LGBT Sports Summit, but it really is a collaboration between Nike and a bunch of us who want to get this done,” stressed Zeigler, referring to the sporting apparel’s support of the gathering. “Being yourself and maximizing your potential—these are all important pieces of Nike’s brand. What we’re doing is matching Nike’s brand.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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