Hudson Taylor witnessed firsthand the homophobia that is pervasive in the culture of college sports during his years as an All-American wrestler at the University of Maryland. It was what compelled him to co-found Athlete Ally, a campaign to end homophobia and transphobia in sports, at the end of 2010 with his now-wife, Lia.
From 2010-2014, Taylor was a volunteer wresting coach at Columbia University, so when news broke on Nov. 10 that the school’s class of 2017 wrestling team were found to have used homophobic and racist slurs, making jokes about rape and mocking women’s appearances, Taylor returned to speak with the wrestlers he’d once coached.
WASHINGTON BLADE: The news about the Columbia wrestling team had to hit you pretty hard. What are you feeling?
HUDSON TAYLOR: I know these guys and I have coached them. For five years I worked with them to change this behavior and to address the resulting impact from using that kind of language. It made me very sad.
BLADE: In an article you wrote for the Columbia Spectator, you accepted some of the responsibility for the actions of the wrestlers. Why?
TAYLOR: It was me wanting them to know that their actions are affecting people from the coaching staff to the school to the sport itself. My apology was an attempt to show them that and to apologize for not doing more to develop them into young men of better character.
BLADE: The Columbia wrestling team also wrote a letter of apology that stated that a culture change is needed and that it will take place. How will that happen?
TAYLOR: There will be a thoughtful punishment for the people in question followed by a period of reconciliation that will be taken as an opportunity to create something to be proud of. I spoke to the team this past Monday and will continue to work with them in regards to what happened and how to move forward.
BLADE: You have said that maybe in the past you had been talking too much to the wrestlers and not enough with them. Were you aware of their biases?
TAYLOR: No, the attitudes existed in unseen places. I think it speaks to the point that people are getting better at being mindful about what they reveal publicly.
BLADE: The lewd messages that were sent by the wrestlers not only targeted the LGBT community, but also women and people of color. Will Athlete Ally be addressing those communities more in the future?
TAYLOR: You can’t really hope to end forms of discrimination of one type without addressing all of it. Athlete Ally will continue to target homophobia and transphobia in sports by investing in education and policy change. That being said, we are currently involved with the push to end the hijab ban on female players within the International Basketball Federation. It is not core to our work, but we have a responsibility.
BLADE: Athlete Ally’s investment in policy change and education is directed at professional and college sports. The evidence is there that prejudice and discrimination is being taught at early ages. Why not K-12 schools?
TAYLOR: Ultimately yes, attitudes and behaviors are being taught early on. We have targeted professional and college sports because the impact on them is scalable. K-12 is more segmented and there are over 30,000 high schools in the United States. We don’t have enough feet on the ground to make an impact. We do have ideas though and one is to engage the over 200,000 people playing in LGBT sports leagues to go back to their high schools to interact with the students.
BLADE: What else needs to be done going forward to encourage inclusive sports communities?
TAYLOR: We need to use this experience to understand and promote social justice values across all communities. Every incident is an opportunity for reformation. I also think that taking a look at ending gender segregation in school sports is worthwhile. I don’t know what that would look like, but the current situation is breeding bad behavior.