When you listen to Hudson Taylor speak, you hear words like “diversity,” “respect,” “inclusion” and “safe space.” Those may be common words for LGBT rights advocates, but Taylor is anything but common. He is a recently married 24-year-old straight man who spent most of his life going to the mats to hone his skills in the sport of wrestling. Now, he is going to the mat for us, the LGBT community.
We have been lucky in the past year to see a growing list of straight sports allies speaking out against bullying and discrimination in sports. Ben Cohen, Charles Barkley, Brian Burke and Paul Tagliabue are just a few to grab national headlines recently.
With all the attention that Taylor has been generating lately, I found myself curious as to why one person was making such a difference. Hudson and his wife Lia were at the Team DC Champions Awards/College Scholarship reception in October at the HRC Building, with Taylor being the keynote speaker. After several hours of mingling with the guests and award recipients, the duo had managed to charm the socks off of everyone in attendance. Both are sincere and charismatic.
Taylor’s journey to LGBT advocacy began at the University of Maryland where he was a theater major and a three-time All-American in wrestling. Over the course of his collegiate career, he noticed the difference between the welcoming atmospheres of the theater community and the homophobic environment of the locker room.
After HRC came to the campus looking for supporters and volunteers, Taylor began wearing an HRC sticker on his wrestling headgear that made national headlines. Outsports wrote an article about him in February 2010 and Taylor subsequently received more than 2,000 emails from supporters and young, closeted teens.
When asked about the responsibility that comes with having troubled teens asking for direction, Taylor responds, “It is a difficult responsibility and I am not a trained professional. I am, however, a good listener and capable of pointing people to a safe space.”
With all the attention that he was generating, Taylor decided to put law school on hold and create his own non-profit organization, Athlete Ally. The organization encourages people to make a pledge to respect and welcome all types of athletes. In the future the organization hopes to become a resource to connect young people with others like them.
Taylor and Lia have finished up their schooling at the University of Maryland and George Washington University respectively, and are currently living in New York City where Taylor is an assistant wrestling coach at Columbia University and Lia is practicing law.
Taylor continues to speak nationally about diversity, inclusion and respect to high schools, colleges and corporations such as Nike and Walmart. Lia said, “The reception has been huge with some of the venues holding up to 3,000 people.”
Taylor was recently named to the advisory board of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) new sports initiative, “Changing the Game.” The mission of the initiative 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. “We will be creating programs to educate coaches, administrators, parents, students and fans,” Hudson said.
Why do we need groups like Athlete Ally and GLSEN? There are hundreds, probably thousands, of LGBT teenagers in America who are not playing sports because they fear the repercussions of joining a community that is historically unwelcoming. Try to imagine what would happen if the sports community was as welcoming as say, the theater community.
In the middle of all the changes going on in their lives, Taylor and Lia were married in Washington, D.C., in September of 2011. When I asked why they were married in D.C. (they are from New Jersey and New York respectively), the response was incredibly touching.
“When we first started planning the wedding, the Marriage Equality Act in New York had not yet passed,” Taylor said. “We wanted to stay true to our values as many of our friends were unable to get married in New York.”
In the coming months, Taylor will also make a run at the 2012 Olympic wrestling team. “I have been wrestling since I was 5 years old and I still love to compete,” he said. “I will participate in a few upcoming tournaments to see if a run at the 2012 Olympics is plausible.”
Based on what he has accomplished in his life so far, I wouldn’t bet against him. Hudson Taylor, you rock. You can make the pledge and/or donate to this worthy cause at athleteally.org.