As a female athlete, junior Regina Douglas has seen her share of gender discrimination. The varsity softball player said in high school, a few of her teammates were mistaken for lesbians whenever they hung out with other girls.
“One time, some of my friends … saw a teammate out with a girl, and they said, ‘She must be a lesbian; she plays softball. Isn’t that what most softball players are?’” she said.
At the Sport, Sexuality and Culture Conference, last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at Ithaca College, sponsored by the sport management and media department, Douglas attended sessions and lectures dealing with the misidentification of athletes’ sexuality.
The event included speakers from around the world leading sessions that dealt with sexuality and culture in sports. The keynote speaker was John Amaechi, the first NBA player to come out publicly about his sexuality in 2007.
Douglas attended the Sport, Media, Sexuality and Culture panel session where USA Today columnist Christine Brennan and Amaechi spoke about how the media covers gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes.
Brennan gave a firsthand look at how the media covers LGBT athletes while Amaechi talked about his experience as a gay man playing in the NBA. Douglas said both speakers talked about the gender stereotypes of female athletes being lesbians and male athletes being straight.
“As a female athlete, I was glad these issues were addressed,” Douglas said.
Ellen Staurowsky, professor and chair of the graduate program in sport management and media, organized the event. She said the conference’s goal was to bring experts to the college who could engage the campus in dialogue about the changes in sports and LGBT issues.
“The world is changing with regard to homophobia and LGBT issues,” she said. “In terms of issues relating to homophobia, heterosexism and the sport industry … it is my hope that our students will be reflecting on what kind of climate they will create for their co-workers and colleagues.”
Amaechi had been open about his sexuality in England, his home country, for more than a decade, but he said he decided to come out in the United States to make an impact on the nation in which he played professional basketball. Amaechi said though most of his teammates knew of his sexual orientation, there was still the policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in the locker room. When he did publicly announce his sexual orientation, he said he received all sorts of responses.
“The reactions were 95 percent positive, 5 percent negative, but the negative was loud, aggressive, violent and frightening,” he said.
In his speech last Thursday night in Emerson Suites, Amaechi also spoke about the stereotypes surrounding athletes. He told a packed crowd that people are often shocked when he tells them he is gay.
“I’m a tall, black, male athlete,” said Amaechi, the 6-foot-10-inch former center for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz. “How could I possibly be gay?”
While attending college at Penn State University, Amaechi said he walked around as the “big man on campus” and was thrilled when people knew who he was. But now, Amaechi said he would have given up his career and fame to be out in college.
“I used to walk by the student center and see the LGBT group meeting, and I resented them so much,” he said. “I would have given it all up to have been with them.”
Other sessions throughout the three days dealt with issues such as transgender athletes, the Gay Games and legal issues concerning discrimination in sport. According to Staurowsky, about 1,000 people participated in the three-day event.
Laura Moore of the Federation of the Gay Games, gave a presentation Friday morning called “Federation of Gay Games: A History of the Gay Games Movement and Current Issues.” Moore was one of the first advocates of figure skating in the Gay Games, a quadrennial multi-sport event for LGBT participants, and said the Gay Games are so much more than athletics.
“We are not just a sporting event,” she said. “We are a cultural event.”
Freshman Chelsea Dutton, a member of the track and field team, volunteered to preside over the session “Female Athletes I: Negotiating Body and Identity in a Heterosexist World” by J. Alison Watts of Temple University and Karima Dorney of Queen’s University.
“It was phenomenal and really addressed how confusing it can be to be a female athlete in today’s society,” she said.
Dutton said she believed the conference was important because of how damaging discrimination in the athletics community can be. She said in order to combat homophobia in sports, these issues need to be discussed.
“The conference was a good way to educate people about stereotypes and sexuality and address issues, which don’t get talked about nearly enough,” she said.
Junior Jonathan Covney also volunteered to preside over sessions and was a host the first two days. He said the event was able to bring Ithaca’s athletic community together.
“It opened people’s eyes to show that everyone can get along in sports,” he said. “Sports is a great way to unite everybody, and this created awareness for equality in sports.”
Staurowsky said the event was successful in creating conversation among the campus about LGBT issues in sports.
“Sport as a social institution and as an industry is no different than the larger society,” she said. “[The conference] was a chance to bring together people from all around the world to share their work with each other and to move the conversation forward.”