April 13, 2013 at 6:00 am EDT | by Kevin Majoros
Level playing field
Pat Griffin, sports, gay news, Washington Blade

Pat Griffin (left) calls herself the ‘granny of the LGBT sports movement.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The LGBT sports community has seen significant advances in the last few years with many stories grabbing national headlines. Outsports called 2011 the “gayest year in sports” and that trend has continued with straight allies and professional sports athletes stepping up to support LGBT sports advocacy.

Right in the middle of all the positive energy, the video emerged of Rutgers head basketball coach, Mike Rice, pushing and shoving his players while tossing out homophobic slurs. Rice was subsequently fired.

On the heels of that came the news of basketball legend, Magic Johnson’s son coming out as gay and the resulting backlash from the African-American community.

Clearly, there is still much work to be done.

Sometimes when we look at the change that is happening right before our eyes, we tend to forget about the long journey that has brought us to this point. One of the leaders, who has lead us on the path of impending acceptance in the sports community, is from our own backyard.

Pat Griffin was born in Silver Spring, Md., and graduated from Northwood High School.  While attending the University of Maryland, she competed in basketball, field hockey and swimming serving as athlete coach of the swim team in her senior year. She began her academic career at Wheaton High School and eventually moved on to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where she is now a Professor Emeritus in the Social Justice Education Program.

During our conversation, Griffin jokingly referred to herself as “the granny of the LGBT sports movement.” After taking in all her accomplishments, a better description of Griffin would be “trailblazer.”

Griffin’s LGBT sports advocacy began in 1981 when she served on a sports panel along with race car driver Janet Guthrie at a conference in D.C. that was hosted by the United States Olympic Committee and the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“There was nothing on the agenda about homophobia in sports,” Griffin says. “The first question they asked us was ‘How do female athletes deflect questions about their femininity?’  We all knew what they were really asking.”

Griffin decided then that she wanted to be part of a movement that changed sports.

She eventually became involved with the It Takes a Team! education campaign for LGBT issues in sports. The project was a collaboration between the Women’s Sports Foundation and numerous LGBT groups and was launched through fundraising efforts by tennis legend Martina Navratilova in 1996. Griffin served as director from 2005 until funding for the project ended in 2009.

Griffin believes that any social justice movement, whether it is women’s rights or civil rights, requires the active participation of the target demographic along with their allies.

“Young people, both male and female, are the ones leading the change that we are currently experiencing,” Griffin says.

With that premise in mind, Griffin became the founding director of GLSEN’s sports project Changing the Game, serving from 2009-2011.

Changing the Game’s mission is to assist K-12 schools in creating and maintaining an athletic and physical education climate that is based on the core principles of respect, safety and equal access for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Griffin presents a mind-boggling amount of information for the campaign including resources such as the Team Respect Challenge and creating a Safe Sports Space. The resources are broken apart by roles and are targeted towards athletes, parents, coaches, athletic directors, teachers or principals.

After the groundwork was created at Changing the Game, Griffin jumped right in to participate in a new project in 2012, the Nike LGBT Sports Summit. Many of the nation’s top LGBT sports leaders came together at the Nike World Headquarters to come up with a unified plan to combat bullying and anti-LGBT bias and discrimination in sports.

Her current projects include independent consulting with colleges and high schools on LGBT sports issues along with just completing, with Hudson Taylor, the recently released a NCAA LGBT resource guide for coaches, administrators and athletes called “Champions of Respect.”

“I embrace my role in the LGBT sports community and try to notice the little things that offer insights into the LGBT sports movement,” Griffin says.

We thank you granny, for noticing.

You can follow Griffin on her blog at ittakesateam.blogspot.com

  • Pat & Helen Carrol (of NCLR) co-authored “On The Team” in 2010, a resource guide which led to the NCAA’s adoption of policies for trans*athlete inclusion in collegiate sports. Its too bad that this important work was not mentioned in this article.

    • Hi Gretchen. Helen is certainly on my list of hopeful interviews. With our space limits, I had a hard time saying what I want to say about Pat. Look for an article on Helen in the coming months. Thanks for your interest.

      Kevin Majoros

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