The discussion has raged publicly for months, behind closed doors for years, and inside closeted players' minds for decades: When will the first active athlete in a Big Four sport come out? Which sport will it be? What will his teammates say? It's an important discussion, one that You Can Play has participated in -- hell, one that we've helped drive. It will be a huge moment for the sports world when gay athletes start inviting us into their lives.
Unfortunately, when this is the discussion that drives headlines and grabs attention, important work gets left undone. Think of the adjectives needed to define this hypothetical athlete: "first openly gay, active, male athlete in a major North American team sport." Now think about those who need our help who aren't included in that discussion. Female athletes. Transgender athletes. Retired athletes. Individual sport athletes. Amateur athletes. High school athletes.
Young athletes are tough. Going into high school means dealing with school boards, principals and parents. Their budgets are small, so the groups involved usually have to find ways to cover costs. Reaching out to teenagers without sounding like Grandpa Simpson is difficult and time-consuming. But they're the athletes who need us most. They're the ones fighting for their identities, for their futures, for their dreams. They're struggling to define who they are while still under the control of some authority (parents, siblings, guardians, teachers, coaches). Great work on behalf of young LGBT athletes has been done by groups like GLSEN (especially under the leadership of Pat Griffin) and to a growing extent You Can Play, but many groups avoid that fight. No one gets headlines for work with high school kids.
The athletes who need us most are the ones getting the least amount of outreach. We're all concerned about when a Super Bowl will be a safe place for a gay football player, but who is spending time, energy and resources on fixing the homecoming game? Here's a thought: There's a good chance that an athlete who would have been willing to be an openly gay professional quit when he was a teenager due to intimidation and fear.
It is with that thought in mind that You Can Play is thrilled and honored to team up with educator and writer Darnell L. Moore and gay former NFL player Wade Davis II (both HuffPost bloggers) for their YOU Belong Initiative: An LGBTQA Sports and Leadership Camp. The YOU Belong initiative is a proactive response to the need for increased safe spaces for young LGBTQ people, especially in sports environments.
Over the course of four days, LGBTQ youth and straight allies will engage in sports instruction and leadership development. The initiative will be launched in Chicago July 25 through July 28. We are looking forward to partnering with YOU Belong and the other partners, including the Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV Prevention at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, the Center on Halsted and Outsports, as well as the WNBA's Chicago Sky and other NBA professionals who will help our participants improve their basketball skills. We're excited to assist in creating a space for young athletes to thrive. And we are thrilled that we can turn our attention to those who tend to be ignored by so many.
It is time that we provide our young LGBTQ athletes with important and long-lasting leadership training from experts in the field. A gym free of anti-gay slurs. A locker room without homophobia. A court where LGBT athletes can just play the sport they love as a sign that these young people are athletes who matter -- to us, to the sports world, to the LGBT community and to the city of Chicago. We want our young people to know that they belong.