In August of this year, the You Can Play Foundation announced that co-founder Patrick Burke, a straight sports ally, would step aside as the face of the organization to be replaced by former NFL player, Wade Davis.
It was a surprising announcement considering the impact You Can Play has had on the LGBT sports movement.
Last week, Patrick Burke penned a letter on OutSports.com that summed up his position on the current state of straight sports allies. Burke wrote, “I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve gone too far. Allies have raised our profiles beyond what is necessary to help the LGBT community. It’s been a big year for allies to get famous, grab a book deal, win awards, and maybe pocket some speaker’s fees for appearances.”
For me — a gay athlete and LGBT sports writer — it doesn’t really matter who benefits financially from the visibility that straight allies have brought to the LGBT sports movement. What matters is that people are talking about it.
After writing and sharing LGBT sports stories for years as a freelance writer for the Washington Blade, I had never really been sure who was hearing my message. Imagine my surprise when it was announced that the Blade would publish a national sports issue last August.
I was given the opportunity to write seven LGBT sports stories for that issue, which were published alongside sports stories by the Blade staffers and several straight sports allies. After years of not being sure if anyone was listening, people were finally talking about LGBT sports.
Why did this happen? It happened because the straight sports allies used their connections to gain access to professional sports, college sports, high school sports and the national media. I could feel it happening back in 2011 when Ben Cohen, Hudson Taylor and subsequently Patrick Burke began making waves.
Burke also wrote in his story, “Why am I explaining what it must feel like to be a gay athlete when I am surrounded by dozens of gay athletes more than capable of sharing their own stories?”
I would like to point to a completely different topic that has a similar trajectory. In the early 1980s, thousands of members of the gay community were getting sick. There was great stigma and no one was talking it. A non-member of the community, Elizabeth Taylor, stepped forward to start the conversation about AIDS. Her celebrity status gave her access to people who could bring awareness and get results.
While Ben Cohen, Hudson Taylor and Patrick Burke may not have been national celebrities when they became straight sports allies, they had ties to people that the LGBT sports community was unable to access.
It should also be noted that the LGBT sports community has been talking and sharing their stories for decades. No one was really listening until the straight allies stood up beside us.
Burke will continue to work with You Can Play developing partnerships, creating resources and working to change locker room culture. Naming Wade Davis, who is a gay man of color, as the new executive director of the organization was a brilliant move and I am one of the many who expect great things to come from his leadership.
While I think it is a great idea for the LGBT sports movement to push the gay athlete front and center, I think it is also important to remember what we can accomplish together.
Sports have defined me as a human being and it is my hope that one day everyone, gay or straight, black or white, male or female will experience sports on a level playing field.