Colleges hold trainings to better support LGBTQ athletes

By : wire report
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ABOVE: Kenyon’s Timothy Bussey and Denison’s Kayla Hayes. Photo via Twitter.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) | Coming out as gay or transgender can come with many questions and fears.

For LGBTQ student-athletes, it can mean uncertainty about whether teammates and coaches will be accepting, whether playing time will be reduced, and whether they can continue to play a sport that, for many, has been a key part of their life and identity.

That’s why Timothy Bussey of Kenyon College and Kayla Hayes of Denison University are working to make the path to LGBTQ inclusivity a bit smoother in NCAA Division III college athletics.

Bussey, assistant director of Kenyon’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Hayes, associate head women’s basketball coach at Denison, are two of about 30 people across the country – and the only two in Ohio – trained to facilitate the NCAA’s LGBTQ OneTeam program. It is aimed at helping athletic department employees better support LGBTQ athletes and understand the challenges they might face.

The training program came about earlier this year following a survey from the NCAA’s LGBTQ working group. The survey found that while most of the athletic department employees, coaches and student-athletes surveyed found their athletic departments and conferences to be welcoming and free from LGBTQ discrimination, fewer of those who identified as LGBTQ agreed with that finding.

Athletics is a good place for the training, Hayes said, because sports are built around a family atmosphere that teams provide.

“If people are hiding and not who they are, they can’t be the best person they can be, let alone the best teammate or the best player they can be,” she said.

Topics covered in the training include common LGBTQ terms and definitions and best practices for ensuring a climate of respect and inclusion, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

The training helps participants avoid “derogatory terms that are associated with the queer community and that have been so often just used in our common language of athletics, really,” Hayes said.

The training also covers the NCAA’s LGBTQ nondiscrimination policy and directs participants through a series of case studies, such as how to help a student-athlete who is not receiving family support after coming out as gay, or what the options are for a student-athlete who is a member of the women’s swim team but is transitioning to being a male.

NCAA policies stipulate that a trans male undergoing hormonal treatment for a gender transition may compete on a men’s team. A trans female being treated with testosterone suppression medication may play on a women’s team after one year of testosterone suppression treatment. Before that year is up, the trans female can continue to compete on a men’s team.

Bussey and Hayes come from two institutions that are technically sports rivals. But there’s no competition between them in this setting. Bussey brings a great understanding of policy and campus-wide LGBTQ issues, and Hayes understands what it means to have your identity closely tied with a sport and team, she said.

“It’s nice for the participants to have … two very different perspectives,” Bussey said. “Someone who is out and working in athletics, and someone who is out and working in a much more institutionally wide sort of capacity.”

This school year, Bussey and Hayes have held training events for more than 130 Denison and Kenyon coaches and athletic department employees, and they are in talks with other Division III schools in Ohio and neighboring states to take the training on the road.

The program is only for Division III schools. The NCAA provides LGBTQ education and resources to all divisions, but Division III spokeswoman Louise McCleary said she did not know whether the OneTeam program will expand to other divisions.

Since the training launched in August, about 20 programs have been held or scheduled involving nearly 800 participants, McCleary said. No specific safety concern sparked the idea for the training, she said, but it grew out of a willingness to build on work already done and to be “proactive in having Division III be safe for, inclusive of and welcoming to the LGBTQ community and its allies.”

Tiffany Ozbun, the head softball coach at Denison, completed the OneTeam training last month and said she liked that it provided an action plan for communicating with student-athletes in a respectful, accepting way.

“As a coach and as an educator, you always want to create an environment of acceptance and inclusion, because that’s really where students and student-athletes can grow,” Ozbun said.

Hayes and Bussey both feel that their institutions and the sports programs are ahead of the curve on LGBTQ support and inclusivity. Kenyon, for example, just added a second gender-neutral locker room to its athletic facility this school year, Bussey said.

Still, it’s important for coaches and athletic department employees to understand how to support student-athletes and foster inclusive team environments, Hayes and Bussey said.

“We’re making sure that this inclusive environment isn’t just happening in a classroom or in a residence hall, but that it’s happening in all areas of campus life,” Bussey said.

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