By PATRICK NERO
In the coming weeks, hundreds of thousands of young people will arrive on a college campus for the first time.
They deserve to be welcomed to a campus that is accepting and respectful — a campus that celebrates a diverse community, allows for a total education and best prepares students for life after college.
At George Washington University, our diverse community includes a strong and proud LGBT community.
It is important that our intercollegiate athletic program recognizes and celebrates this part of our university.
We talk often as an athletic program about the importance of being part of the greater GW community. Too often intercollegiate athletic programs have strayed from the greater mission of the university, we try hard every day to see that this doesn’t happen here.
As athletic director at GW, I am very proud that over the past couple of years our student-athletes have taken the initiative to partner with two organizations that address LGBT issues. In 2011, they partnered with the It Gets Better Project to create a video addressing bullying of LGBT youth.
In 2012, our student-athletes and our university joined the You Can Play Project. The You Can Play Project brings together athletes and teams from all over the country that want to ensure equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. GW was one of the first universities to join You Can Play and our video message played at all of our men’s and women’s basketball home games as well as all of our televised events both regionally and nationally.
An important moment in college basketball came in 2010 when GW student-athlete Kye Allums became the first openly transgender man to play on a Division 1 basketball team. Kye’s brave decision to come out was a challenge not only for Kye, but his teammates, our university and college sports. It is through challenges such as this that people learn. This is what the college years should be about. Kye has gone on to become a terrific leader and educator on transgender athlete issues and we are proud of the work he is doing.
LGBT issues have been at the forefront of all aspects of our society lately — politics, music, entertainment and sports. We are seeing active professional athletes such as Jason Collins, Brittney Griner and Robbie Rogers come out publicly. The public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, hopefully creating an environment in which an athlete’s sexual orientation will no longer be a story.
In the past, the sports world has not been portrayed as a welcoming environment for those identifying as LGBT. Like many other parts of society, we have allowed stereotypes to dictate how people act. The portrayal of a LGBT person did not fit into the norm of how we portray an athlete. Generations of stereotyping created a harmful environment that we are just now making progress on.
As progress has been made, support has also come from professional athletes such as GW MBA student Brendon Ayanbadejo. Brendon, a Super Bowl champion with the Baltimore Ravens, has been a strong advocate for equal rights for the LGBT community. We are honored to have Brendon as part of our GW community.
Other groups such as You Can Play and Athlete Ally have served as powerful voices in overcoming stereotypes. The progress that has been made is small, but encouraging.
At GW we will continue to do our part in supporting and celebrating the individuals within our program. We will do our best to create an athletic program that is open to all and discriminates against none.
Patrick Nero is athletic director of George Washington University.