“My daughter is going to play soccer at her university, and decided she wants to come out as gay to her college team. I support her, but I worry that her teammates will treat her differently or that her coaches will give her less playing time if they aren’t accepting.”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Lauren Neidigh
I’ve never been a parent, but I would imagine that some of the fears that we have as LGBT athletes are present for parents as well. I, too, sometimes worry about people in my life being targeted, so I’m sure that worry is only amplified when it involves a bond between a mother and daughter.
While it can be scary to come out to teammates, it’s definitely important for your daughter to come out when she feels ready. It’s a big step for her to know that she wants to come out to her team. When I was transferring as a college swimmer, I looked for a team I would feel comfortable coming out to, and it still didn’t happen right away. I took the time to get settled in and get comfortable with my teammates. That made coming out a lot easier.
It’s important for you to support the idea of your daughter coming out on her own terms. If she hasn’t decided to come out yet, it should be because she hasn’t reached that part of her own process yet, not because of what someone else might think. There’s a big difference between being a closeted athlete because you’re not ready to come out yet versus being a closeted athlete because you feel you cannot or should not ever come out. Life looks very limited when you feel like you can’t come out because coaches and teammates will treat you differently. When coming out, you always face the chance that you will be treated differently—but by not acknowledging who you are and instead living your life according to others’ standards, you’ll never truly be happy.
So whatever you do, don’t encourage your daughter to hide who she is out of fear of negative consequences. This could possibly push forward the attitude that gay players don’t belong in sports, even if that wasn’t the message you intended to send. Your daughter needs to know that her happiness comes first to you and that she doesn’t have to adjust to fit heteronormative standards.
It may be hard to think about the way that people might treat your daughter. But luckily, there are more resources now than there have ever been to make this process easier. Since coming out in 2014, I’ve connected with some really amazing LGBT athlete groups. One of those groups, GO! Athletes, is a network for LGBT athletes, coaches, and administrators that builds relationships between people all around the continent. I’ve been privileged to serve on the board of GO! this year as Director of Social Media, and have seen the impact this network has had on so many young LGBT athletes. I was the only gay athlete on my school’s women’s swim team, so when I felt isolated because of my sexuality, having that network behind me kept me going.
As a member of GO! Athletes, I’ve attended the Nike LGBT Sports Coalition Summit the past two summers. There, we talked about ways to make things better for LGBT athletes. Sometimes I find comfort in just knowing that there are some very powerful members of the LGBT Sports Coalition working to end discrimination. We rally on Outsports when an LGBT athlete has been wronged and an entire community is always there to back someone who needs help. I hope that you and your daughter will find this comfort as well, because there are so many people out there to support you, even though you haven’t met us yet.
Through all of this, it’s important to remember that coming out is a testament to your daughter’s bravery, individuality, and commitment to herself. It’s still a big deal to me every time an LGBT athlete comes out. Times have changed, but there are still many obstacles to overcome. Young athletes like your daughter help us continue to move forward. When athletes continue to come out, we start to see some really special things. I almost cried when Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, and was so happy when Abby Wambach kissed her wife for millions of people to see after winning the Women’s World Cup. There’s no limit to what your daughter can do to inspire others as an out athlete. Try to focus on the joy it can bring to you both while you address your fears.
Lauren Neidigh is Director of Social Media for GO! Athletes. She was a Division I swimmer at the University of Arizona and is working on her master’s degree in criminology at Florida State University. You can follow her on Twitter @l_e_neidigh or on Instagram, as well as e-mail her at email@example.com
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