The past 18 months have truly been groundbreaking in the LGBT sports landscape. The likes of Jason Collins, Michael Sam, Derick Gordon, as well as Olympians Sally J Shipard, Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, Caitlin Cahow and Belle Brockhoff have all come out so loudly and so proudly! And understandably the gut reaction is to fixate on that culminating moment, the proverbial, “I am gay.” Looking back to 2012 and the weeks and months leading up to my coming out, it strikes me as important not to lose sight of the culminating factors that made the decision in that moment even possible.
As an athlete, only about 1 percent of what you do is actually seen: the critical pass, the lifting of the trophy or the ball in the back of the net. What is not seen by the public by and large is the incredible journey that goes along with that incredible moment. I will spare you the cheesy details, but the 90 minutes I am out on the pitch is just the icing on a seven-layer cake. And anyone who has ever been lucky enough to play in a championship match knows that it is about much more than just the game, it is actually about everything that has led you to that moment.
Similarly, while coming out remains an individual act of courage, and although LGBT athletes should be recognized and commended for their leadership, I think that it is important to acknowledge and celebrate what makes coming out moments possible. The LGBT sports movement is about more than LGBT athletes — it’s also about what makes it possible for LGBT athletes to come out and be accepted as part of their teams and sports. It is incredibly inspiring to witness historic moments playing out across the major sports leagues, but I continue to be moved by the small and not-so-small actions taken by individuals and communities, shaping a more inclusive environment across America and beyond.
I came out to contribute to the broader cultural shift that reflects growing support for LGBT equality. We need athletes at all levels to continue to come out — to courageously stand in who they are and show that athletic careers survive and thrive when we live openly and authentically. Both through the U.S. national team and the Seattle Reign I have the opportunity to interact with thousands of fans. People older than I am, younger than I am, men, and women have told me, “You’re the reason I came out,” or, “Seeing you live who you are has given me the strength to be true to myself.” These interactions and conversations have given me tremendous perspective regarding how hard it can be to come out and come to terms with your sexual orientation and or gender identity — and how important it is to have support around you, and in the broader culture.
Back in 2012, I was graciously given the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center’s Board of Directors Award, for becoming one of the few out Olympians at the 2012 London Games. It was overwhelming and humbling to be surrounded by people who do so much to support the LGBT community, especially the youth, day in and day out. In the domain of LGBT activism and advocacy, while perhaps I have been able to serve as a catalyst for courage, ultimately, change happens when family, friends, and society create inclusive and supportive environments where all people, gay, straight, bisexual and transgender stand together for equality.
As a member of the U.S. women’s soccer team that won gold at the 2012 Olympics, we spoke of our success as a victory made possible not only by the players on and off the pitch, but also our coaches, trainers, U.S. Olympic Committee staff, family members, friends and fans.
Change takes courageous LGBT people, but it also takes a lot of courageous people who are not gay, straight or otherwise. The fact of the matter is that everybody in my life is not gay, and yet everybody in my life has played a role in creating a supportive and inclusive environment for me to simply be who I am.
When athletes come out, we need to be sure that we take the opportunity to recognize, appreciate and sustain the critical, cumulative contributions that lead up to those critical moments. My family, Lori Lindsey, and Dan Levy are just a few of the incredible allies who have journeyed with me and continue to inspire and support my advocacy. I’m an Athlete Ally Ambassador because when it comes to ending LGBT discrimination in and beyond sport, the responsibility for creating inclusive environments does not rest solely with members of the LGBT community. Equality is a team sport.
Megan Rapinoe is guest editor of the Washington Blade. She won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics as part of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and plays for the U.S. National Team as well as the Seattle Reign.