LGBTQ College Sports Summit

UR hosts first-ever summit to discuss LGBTQ climate for collegiate student-athletes

February 11, 2014

For Kevin Grayson, ’10, coming out was a gradual process. He started his first year, telling a teammate on the Spider football team. By junior year, a few additional teammates knew. But it wasn’t until Grayson was playing professionally in Italy that he told his parents.

“That was the biggest turning point for me,” he says. “That was when I stopped worrying about what others thought. The respect I gained from the people that I told helped me continue playing and doing what I love.”

Grayson recently told his story as part of a panel of student-athletes, alumni, and coaches at the Campus Pride LGBTQ College Sports Summit, hosted in partnership with the University of Richmond. Other panelists included Allie Albright, ’13, a four-year goal keeper on the women’s soccer team; Alex Rooke, ’12, who played rugby as a senior; Sean Letsinger, Richmond’s head diving coach; and Toni Kokenis, a senior on the Stanford University women’s basketball team and 2014 Campus Pride Voice and Action Athlete Award recipient. The panelists reflected on their fears and challenges when coming out, fighting stereotypes such as hyper-masculinity in major men’s sports, and the support they looked for in their coaches and teammates.

In addition to the panel, the daylong summit featured a series of keynote speakers, including Kye Allums, the first out transgender person to play NCAA Division I athletics; Sue Rankin, a researcher who studied the collegiate climate for LGBTQ student-athletes; and Wade Davis, a former NFL football player and executive director of You Can Play, an organization dedicated to ending discrimination and homophobia in sports. Breakout sessions to discuss bullying, religion, transgender athletes, and layers of identity completed the day’s programming.

The summit continued conversations among Richmond athletics staff about how to create welcoming environments for all students and address the dynamics of a diverse team. While planning their next educational programs, the athletics staff approached Ted Lewis, associate director for LGBTQ life, for help.

Lewis took the concept a step further and contacted Campus Pride, a national organization for LGBTQ student leaders and campus groups. The small, internal workshop quickly evolved into the first-ever LGBTQ college sports summit.

“We’re very committed to making athletics and the University be an inclusive environment for everyone,” says LaRee Sugg, associate director of athletics and one of the summit organizers. “In no way do I think this is the magic bullet, but this is another step towards making that happen. I think it’s going to be just another piece of the puzzle to pulling us together as a community.”

In addition to promoting diversity on campus, a major focus in developing the summit was to also bring in collegiate representatives from Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, California, and Missouri.

“We could do all this internal training for our teams and for our coaches,” says Marti Tomlin-Allen, another summit organizer and an assistant director in Recreation and Wellness. “But then a team and a coach goes out and plays other teams and coaches. With the summit, we’re inviting our competitors in to have this conversation so that the game — as competitive as it is — is inclusive of all of the people playing.”

While attendees left with strategies to create more cohesive teams and support student needs, one of the biggest messages was one that Grayson reiterated from his own experiences:

“With my coming out story, I wanted to show that your sexual orientation has nothing to do with the type of athlete you can be,” he says. “It has no effect on the preparation you put into your sport. You can be gay and still be one of the best players in the nation or in the world. You can be in the Olympics. You can win Super Bowls and national championships.

“The more people that come out, it shows that these are elite athletes in their respective sports and the fact that they’re gay, it doesn’t matter.”