Team DC, the Washington area’s largest LGBT athletics organization, has a mission beyond organizing sports leagues and events for D.C.’s LGBT community. With its student-athlete scholarships, handed out annually to four to six outstanding LGBT athletes in the region, Team DC helps empower gay youth and encourage inclusion.
“By doing things like [the scholarships], I think we help push the conversation forward to be inclusive of LGBT athletes, and LGBT athletes themselves know they are supported and not alone,” said Brent Minor, executive director of Team D.C. “The scholarship program has given us more to be about than just organizing participation in the Gay Games. This helps to establish a stronger and a fuller identity for Team DC”
Team DC’s scholarships provide up to $2,000 for graduating high school seniors who reside in the D.C. metropolitan area and identify as LGBT. Recipients are chosen based not only on athletic success, but also on academic excellence and their promise of serving as positive role models for other LGBT youth.
A diverse committee of educators and parents of LGBT student-athlete college graduates decide which students in the area fulfill the scholarship’s criteria. Although the scholarships are exclusively for LGBT youth, Team DC does not require the recipients to publicly disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“People think all gay youths are coming out now, but that’s definitely not true,” Minor says. “This program is not outing anybody at all. We’re happy to respect their desire to not be out. It adds extra difficulty to talk about not just openly gay students, but openly gay athletes.”
Team DC awarded four local LGBT student-athletes scholarships this year, including Laura Ventura and Sarah Kerndt.
Ventura, a Silver Spring, Md., native who identifies as pansexual, received the Team D.C. scholarship for her talent as a rower on the crew team at Walter Johnson High School where she recently graduated. Ventura had positive experiences being out to her teammates, despite sometimes having to explain what pansexuality — attraction to people of all gender identities and biological sexes — is.
“A lot of people on my team were extremely accepting, or somewhere on the LGBT spectrum themselves. I had to explain [pansexuality], but after the initial explanation that was it,” Ventura says. “My team is a very close-knit team, where we call each other family.”
Ventura was heavily involved with raising awareness of LGBT issues at Walter Johnson, particularly as the president of the school’s Queer-Straight Alliance.
“We did a lot of events,” she says. “We went to D.C. Pride together, saw a lot of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington shows and did Day of Silence. We did a lot of events not just with the club, but with the whole school. I was really excited to win the scholarship because I felt like I had done a lot for my school in trying to gain awareness — on my team and at the school in general. It shows that what I’ve done to teach acceptance has been appreciated by the scholarship committee.”
Ventura is studying nursing at Pace University in New York City next year, which does not have a rowing team. She plans to row for outside clubs in the city.
Sarah Kerndt is a lesbian from Springfield, Va., who graduated earlier this year from West Springfield High School. Team DC awarded her with a scholarship for her gift as a forward on her high school’s basketball team and as a lacrosse goalie. Like Ventura, she largely had positive experiences being out on both teams and was able to confront teammates who made homophobic remarks.
“There were only a couple of incidents where somebody made a remark like ‘That’s so gay.’ I felt comfortable enough around my teammates to approach them about it,” Kerndt says. “I had other teammates who would support me.”
Basketball had always been Kerndt’s sport, but during her junior year she picked up lacrosse. Next year she starts her college career at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., and plans to play for the school’s lacrosse team rather than continuing basketball.
Kerndt was initially waitlisted by Christopher Newport, which was her top-choice, but a chat between her high school lacrosse coach and the university’s lacrosse coach helped to expedite a decision. She wants to play college lacrosse not only because she loves the sport, but also to honor her coach who helped her out.
“I started applying to colleges, and from Christopher Newport I actually got waitlisted. My coach told me she knew the lacrosse coach there, and she told me she could probably get me off the waitlist and she did,” Kerndt says. “I definitely love lacrosse, but I also want to play it for my coach who helped me out.”
Kerndt was ecstatic to win the Team DC scholarship because she says it demonstrates the support LGBT students can find from their community and allows her to tell younger students about this support.
“My first reaction was freaking out over it, because I guess, it’s amazing to see that there are scholarships like Team DC out there,” Kerndt says. “There is a strong LGBT community out there to support everybody, including athletes. I was really honored to be accepted for this — who wouldn’t be?”
Kerndt’s sense of responsibility in educating others and setting a good example is precisely the goal of the Team DC scholarship program.
“Coaches and administrators are often unaware that gays and lesbians play sports, or that that’s even an issue. Sports are one of the last bastions where LGBT participation is not particularly encouraged,” Minor says. “The core mission of Team DC is how to dispel stereotypes. It’s about educating people about the LGBT community and offering more opportunities to play sports.”
Applications for the 2014 Team DC scholarships will start being accepted on Sept. 1. Visit teamdc.org for more information, or to apply for or donate to the Team D.C. scholarship program.