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UCLA coach Kirk Walker on life after coming out

‘Your team is a family, and I needed to be true to my family’

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Kirk Walker, gay news, Washington Blade

Kirk Walker came out in 2005 while coaching for Oregon State.

Kirk Walker officially became the ‘gay’ Division I softball coach back in 2005 when he came out to his team at Oregon State. The press coverage followed with headlines that declared he was the first publicly out coach in the NCAA. Despite courageously sharing his story, Walker wasn’t completely comfortable with the new title.

“I didn’t want to be labeled the gay coach,” he admits. “But then I said that’s fine. I realized it needed to be said, that we needed to have some visibility. I decided to stop fighting it.”

Like his life, Walker’s role is one that keeps evolving. It has been shaped by the sports environment he works in, the confidence he continues to gain from the process of coming out and his morals. When he finally embraced who he was, he found it directly conflicted with his personal coaching philosophy. That was his motivating factor for coming out.

“I had been feeling for years like I was sending the wrong message,” says Walker, who has been an assistant coach at UCLA since returning in 2012. “As a coach you tell your athletes to have integrity and to be authentic. How could I ask that of them when I wasn’t setting that example? Your team is a family, and I needed to be true to my family. That was his motivating factor for coming out.”

Walker’s experience resonated with many, and after sharing his story, his inbox was flooded. When Rick Welts, a longtime NBA executive, decided to come out, Walker reached out to show his support. The response he got from Welts still inspires him to this day.

“I got an email from him that said, ‘I carried your story around with me before I decided to tell mine.’” He applauds the significance of sharing. “Your story can affect somebody.”

That small interaction was a big factor in leading Walker to enter the advocacy stage of his life, and he has been loaning his support to several LGBT sports initiatives for years. Nationally he has been involved since 2012 with the Nike LGBT Sports Coalition, speaking at the annual summit held in Portland, Ore.

“I have a great passion for LGBT advocacy,” says Walker, whose demeanor is both measured and charged with purpose. “There’s so much more to be done around education, bullying and diversity in sports. I hope to be able to do this full time when I retire from coaching. I look forward to any opportunity to be involved.”

Walker’s diversity and inclusion vision includes work with his foundation. Equality Coaching Alliance and the LGBT Sports Coalition both provide confidential support and counseling to hundreds of athletes. While the younger generation can benefit from more visible role models, something Walker did not have, he thinks their views on coming out or why they stay closeted are very different from in the past.

“They don’t really see coming out as being all that imperative and don’t even like labeling themselves as gay or straight,” he says. “There are many in this generation that are comfortable existing as they are, without making statements.”

Counseling and connecting high school, college and professional LGBT athletes is a major part of the advocacy work that Walker does. And he has seen throughout the years, that building a network of support creates an environment where athletes can see they are not alone, and can feel strong enough to choose to come out or not.

But Walker acknowledges there are fears around the process, and feels that the same pressures exist today.

“The perception that sports is inherently homophobic still keeps many coaches, athletes, and individuals from coming out,” he says. “You never have to come out when you are straight, it is assumed. Even in an accepting environment your sexuality will always be assumed straight because it is a huge majority of how society identifies itself.”

In his view, one of the most impactful detriments to not coming out is the amount of time and effort put into trying to be someone else.

“Every second that an athlete or a coach spends on pretending is wasted energy,” says Walker. He lived that lie for years, he says and it was exhausting. “Why does it matter whether you come out or not? Because it frees you up and allows you to focus on competing and being an athlete. It lets them uncap their athletic potential. What coach wouldn’t want that? What athlete wouldn’t?”

Promoting diversity, building awareness and helping create opportunities for LGBT athletes around the country fills up Walker’s days as much as devising strategies for his softball players. Along with the spotlight, he welcomes the titles.

“The stories we’ve seen in the last six or seven years have been powerful,” Walker says. “I think it will continue to be the headline of the story for a while. But it doesn’t have the same gravitas as before. We have to move on, to where it becomes the second part of the story. I think we will get there.”

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Washington Football Team embraces Pride Night Out

‘Football is for everyone’

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The first-ever Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team is set for Thursday.

Team DC launched its ‘Night OUT’ series in 2005 as an LGBTQ community night with the Washington Nationals. 

Over the years, they added events with other local professional sports teams – DC United, Washington Mystics, Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, Washington Kastles, Washington Spirit, Old Glory DC, Washington Prodigy and Citi Open.

On Thursday, Sept. 16, Team DC will host the first annual Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team marking their first partnership with the National Football League.

“We had tried reaching out in the past but eventually made the decision that we would not engage until the name was changed,” says Brent Minor, founder and executive director of Team DC. “We don’t want these community nights to just be a monetary transaction, we want to build bridges and encourage inclusion.”

This week’s game is the Washington Football Team’s Week 2 matchup against the New York Giants and will be televised on Thursday Night Football. 

Along with Pride Night OUT, it will also be a celebration of Latinx Heritage Month and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell, who was a pioneer and trailblazer for equality and civil rights during his years with the team as a player and executive.

Frontline workers from the LGBTQ community including Whitman-Walker Health, Food & Friends and medical providers will be recognized and there will be a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s gospel ensemble of ‘Lift Every Voice.’

The new relationship with the Washington Football Team began when they reached out to Capital Pride and Team DC with a request for a cultural competency training for WFT staffers.

“We spoke with about 75 members of their staff, and it wasn’t just a window dressing exercise — people were engaged,” Minor says. “During the training, Night OUT came up, which led to a discussion on corporate perspective regarding the LGBTQ community.”

Another cultural competency training is expected to occur in the future and the Washington Football Team has pledged to have a yet to be determined role at Capital Pride in 2022.

In August 2020, former NFL player Jason Wright was hired by the Washington Football Team to become their team president, where he leads their business operations, financing, and marketing strategies. 

“We went through a leadership change when Jason Wright was hired and the direction of our outreach will be much broader than it was in the past,” says Joey Colby-Begovich, vice president of guest experience, operations for the Washington Football Team. “We want to be intentional in celebrating our communities beyond the traditional football fans and that includes people of color and marginalized communities. Football is for everyone.”

The DMV region is comprised of a broad spectrum of people who represent the changing demographics of our country. Establishing connections to communities where people from different backgrounds and sexual orientations can find commonality is important for any organization interested in social responsibility.

“We are hoping that we can cultivate a broader fan base that feels safe and comfortable in our space. That includes stronger and deeper relationships with our communities and opportunities in our employee base — we want to be involved in the discussion,” Colby-Begovich says. “The support that we shared for Carl Nassib coming out is an example of our direction. There is change happening.”

The excitement is palpable from the D.C. LGBTQ community as more than 100 tickets have already been sold for the inaugural Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team.

“I think back to the beginning when we first established a relationship with the Washington Nationals. Years later after the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando, they reached out and asked, ‘What can we do,’” says Minor. “Establishing these relationships is important and who knows where this leads when you are embraced in a positive way? When you can break down a barrier between the LGBTQ community and the NFL, that’s rarefied air.”

Tickets for Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team can be found at teamdc.org.

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If a nation? ‘Team LGBTQ’ ranked 11th in medal tally at Tokyo Olympics

182 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes were in Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games

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Los Angeles Blade Graphic

TOKYO – Delayed by the coronavirus pandemic by one year and then held under tight restrictions including no spectators or cheering fans in the stands, the Tokyo Olympics drew to a close Sunday with one group of athletes, LGBTQ+ Olympian competitors, having made historic gains.

Affectionately labeled “Team LGBTQ” by OutSports magazine, at least 182 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes were in Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games, more than triple the number who participated at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games, the magazine reported.

“In fact, if the LGBTQ Olympians competed as their own country — affectionately labeled “Team LGBTQ” by Outsports — they would rank 11thin the total medal count (right behind France and before Canada), with 32 team and individual medals: 11 gold, 12 silver and nine bronze,” reflected NBC Out.

30 different countries were represented by at least one publicly out LGBTQ+ athlete covering 34 sports, including the first trans Olympians, Team New Zealand’s weightlifter, Team USA’s Reserve BMX racer Chelsea Wolfe, and Team Canada’s Quinn, the 25-year-old, soccer player who goes by a single name and uses the pronouns “they” and “their.”

The most notable Olympic medal win was that of Canadian Women’s Soccer midfielder Quinn, who became the first openly transgender, non-binary athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in another trailblazing moment at the Tokyo Games for the marginalised LGBTQ+ community.

Photo via Instagram

In another Olympic triumph, 27-year-old British diver Tom Daley secured his first Olympic Gold medal alongside teammate Matty Lee winning the gold with a score of 471.81 in the men’s synchronized diving narrowly besting the defending champions, China’s Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen by just 1.23 points. For Daley it was his fourth career Olympic medal including a Bronze Medal won in the the Men’s 10m platform completion at Tokyo as well.

Outsports and NBC Out published the following list of medalists;

The gold medalists were Brazilian swimmer Ana Marcela Cunha for the 10-kilometer event; French martial artist Amandine Buchard for mixed team judo; Venezuelan track and field athlete Yulimar Rojas for the triple jump; Irish boxer Kellie Harrington; New Zealand rower Emma Twigg; U.S. women’s basketball team members Sue Bird, Chelsea Gray, Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi; American 3-on-3 basketball player Stefanie Dolson; Canadian women’s soccer team members Quinn, Kadeisha Buchanan, Erin McLeod, Kailen Sheridan and Stephanie Labbe; French handball players Amandine Leynaud and Alexandra Lacrabère; New Zealand rugby players Gayle Broughton, Ruby Tui, Kelly Brazier and Portia Woodman; and, of course, British diver Tom Daley, who finally took home the gold for synchronized diving at his fourth Games.

NBC Out’s Dan Avery noted that after she earned silver for the Philippines, featherweight boxer Nesthy Petecio told reporters, “I am proud to be part of the LGBTQ community,” according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer

“Let’s go, fight!” she added. “This fight is also for the LGBTQ community.”

“The presence and performance of these out athletes has been a huge story at these Games,” Outsports founder Cyd Zeigler told NBC Out in an email. “30% of all the out LGBTQ Olympians in Tokyo won a medal, which means they didn’t just show up, they also performed at a very high level.”

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Out British diver Tom Daley takes Bronze medal in men’s 10m platform

“I owe this medal to so many people. I’m standing on the podium but there are so many people behind the medal.”

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British Olympic Diver Tom Daley wins Bronze via Team Great Britain Twitter

KASAI RINKAI PARK, Tokyo- After tough competition in the Men’s 10m platform diving from China’s Cao Yuan who picked up the Gold Medal and his teammate Yang Jian cinching the number two spot with a Silver Medal, 27-year-old British diver Tom Daley secured a Bronze Medal win with a score of 548.25

This is the second Olympic Bronze Medal for the Plymouth, England native, in individual diving completion since he won bronze at the London Games in 2012. Daley and his teammate Daniel Goodfellow won a Bronze Medal in the 10m synchronised at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

With this Bronze win, it will be his fourth overall career Olympic Games medal win after taking the Gold two weeks ago in the Tokyo games along with his British teammate diving partner Matty Lee. Daley and Lee winning the gold with a score of 471.81 in the men’s synchronized diving narrowly besting the defending champions, China’s Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen by just 1.23 points.

During a post event press conference Daley said; “I am so happy that this Olympics has gone the way it has. I feel like a different athlete, I feel like I’ve been through so many different things over the years.”

“At the end of May, I didn’t even know if I was going to make it to these Games. I tore my meniscus and had knee surgery, I always dreamed I’d be fit enough to come back and dive at these Olympics,” he continued adding, “If someone had told me I was going to win a gold and a bronze, I probably would have laughed in their face. I owe this medal to so many people. I’m standing on the podium but there are so many people behind the medal.”

Reflecting on his medal win the diver noted, “Once you’re in the final, that’s what I love. I love competition when it counts, there was great competition with the two Chinese divers, they pulled away when I missed it a little bit on the fourth dive,” the apparently thrilled Daley smiled and added, “I’m extremely happy to come away with another Olympic medal.”

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