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April 15, 2004

Equal Opportunity For All: Gay Student-Athletes Included

FROM LOCKER ROOMS AND CLASS ROOMS come ever-evolving strides in the mission to foster respect for high school student-athletes without regard to sexual orientation.

While the same sentiment could / should be endorsed with regard to tolerance for race, national origin, religion or political affiliation, it is the sexual orientation issue that has most captivated the attention—both positive and negative—of the entire nation these past few months.

A case in point: the debate over gay marriages / unions / alliances was front page news for a protracted period.

While protection from discrimination for sexual orientation ostensibly falls under the umbrella of equal rights for all, a handful of states have seen the need to pass special protection legislation.

To date, only eight states (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin) protect students based on their sexual orientation. In the absence of these protection policies, many schools seem unwilling to take on the issue because they don’t have legal back-up.

To fill the void, several national organizations, including the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the NCAA and the Women’s Sports Foundation, have created the Project to Eliminate Homophobia in Sport, with the mission to teach respect for all athletes and coaches regardless of sexual orientation.

The project has produced a homophobia education kit entitled “It Takes A Team: Making Sports Safe For Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Athletes and Coaches.” The kit includes a video, curriculum guide, posters and stickers.

Activists speaking out for sexual orientation protection point to extensive homophobia in high schools, and that the problem is even more acute in athletics. They cite a recent GLSEN survey that revealed the use of slurs like “faggot” and “dyke” occurs five times as often in athletics settings than it does in classrooms. The survey encompassed 6201 students in 19 schools in 11 states.

The nation’s first state-accredited school for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, is New York City’s Harvey Milk High School. Milk High is looking to field athletic teams in the Public Schools Athletic League this fall. Such an occurrence would be an historic milestone for homosexual student-athletes in interscholastic sports. However, it will likely come with a considerable amount of disapproval and derision from opponents and fans alike.

Stay tuned.

(this 381 word excerpt—with supporting commentary—was distilled from a 1688 word article in Athletic Business of April 2004)