After Marriage Equality: Advocacy for LGBT Athletes and the Community

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The decision to make same-sex marriage legal nationwide was a huge milestone in the LGBT rights movement. But that’s all it is: A milestone. It’s not the end by any means. I was so happy to wake up that Friday morning and see the Supreme Court ruling. Yes, I can one day marry a woman that I love. But that doesn’t make the world a completely safe place for her and I.

It certainly doesn’t change things for many other members of the LGBT community who suffer though discrimination, violence, and abuse. I can’t put a number on how many things we need to keep fighting for or against, but here are a few things I’ve been thinking about lately.

Transgender Athlete Rights

I can’t even begin to understand how hard it must be to face the problems presented to transathletes. Transgender athletes still live in a world where they are discriminated against in sports. As a cisgender woman, I was automatically included in women’s sports. Nobody questioned whether or not I should be where I was. Transgender athletes suffer from a multitude of issues.

They could be barred from competing with a team completely. People are often less than inclusive, to put it lightly, when it comes to allowing transgender athletes in locker rooms. They’re misgendered and referred to with the wrong pronouns, as those who discriminate against them maliciously insult them. It’s not about just caring or not caring what other people think. People’s actions make it difficult for transpeople to participate.

Beyond these problems, which are a few of many, I look forward to learning more so that I can become a stronger advocate for these athletes.

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(Melanie Henique, Photo via Stephane Kempinaire / KMSP / DPPI from FFN, Swimswam)

Violence Against LGBT People

There have been thousands of hate crimes against members of the LGBT community. Just recently, French star swimmer and lesbian-identified woman Melanie Henique was the target of a homophobic assault. The attack by two men was completely unexpected. The attack caused Henique to withdraw from the French Open, an important national meet. It also hindered her training for the upcoming FINA World Championships in Kazan.

It scares me to think that a stranger could do something like that. That another violent and hateful person could cause someone physical harm, just because they don’t approve of their lifestyle. Imagine having dinner with your significant other, and being brutally attacked after a really good evening.

People that I love and care about mean everything to me. It doesn’t just make me worry that something like that could happen to me. It could happen to anybody. It could happen to any one of my closest friends who identify as LGBT. This is something that we need to talk about, and something that we need to change.

Mental Health and LGBT Athletes

This is something that had a huge presence in my swimming career. Before coming out, I had reached the height of my career, qualifying for Olympic Trials and swimming for the college team I had dreamed about swimming for since I was 8. But I couldn’t get past that point.

I was unfocused. I was depressed. I couldn’t be my best because I was trying to be someone else. My sexuality was something that I wouldn’t allow myself to face, like may other closeted athletes. I would push away the depression and try to think about swimming every second. Every time I would make a breakthrough in swimming, that depression would come back.

I had fear of being rejected if I faced the feelings I refused to deal with. The way that I saw people treat other gay athletes was horrifying. They may not have realized they were hurting me, because they didn’t know I struggled not to identify with being gay. I internalized this, hurting my relationships with friends and teammates. They couldn’t understand me, because I wouldn’t let them. I didn’t want to understand myself. My depression got bad enough that I eventually left, feeling like my dream was crushed because I couldn’t deal with who I was.

Looking back on it, that dream didn’t mesh with who I am. My dream is to be happy with people that I love, be successful in school and an eventual career, help others, and make a difference. We need to educate others on the damage that words and actions do, even without that intention. We need to help alleviate the fear that many LGBT people face. Depression and mental illnesses due to personal identity is a serious problem. Providing safe spaces and advocating for these athletes can change lives.

Moving Forward

Like I said, this is just a few of the many things we have to face beyond marriage equality. Talking about these things is important. We need to advocate for LGBT rights in all areas if we want ourselves and our loved ones to live a safe and inclusive life. Let me know if you want to talk about these issues, or some of the things we haven’t covered in this article. If you have something to say, GO! Athletes wants to hear it.