LGBTQ Athletes Still Search for Place at Whitman

Quin Nelson

LGBTQ athletes who choose to play for the Missionaries sometimes face clashing ideals. While the college prides itself on being progressive and inclusive, the sports world can often be rigid and conservative. When these perceived opposites meet, which wins out?

Although Whitman’s accepting environment has created a fairly safe place for its LGBTQ athletes, it still has a way to go before all of these athletes truly feel supported.

Alumna Amy Hasson ’12 was a varsity soccer player who came out to her teammates at the beginning of her sophomore year. The announcement went over very well with her teammates, not that Hasson was surprised.

“I think coming out to myself and learning to accept that I was gay was probably the hardest part, and coming out to my friends was the easy part. I knew they would be supportive. I knew the team would love me no matter what and have my back,” she said.

Senior Tom Smith,* a member of the cross country team who is gay, also found support and understanding from some people on his team, although unlike Hasson, he did not feel that same acceptance from his entire team. 

“My coach has been very supportive. He’s been like another dad to me. One of my good friends knows, and he’s okay with it. A lot of the other guys don’t know because I think they’d be weirded out since they make a lot of homophobic jokes,” said Smith. 

The difference in their experiences could largely be due to Hasson’s finding a supportive community, which Smith has yet to find.

“I kind of wish there would have been more of a supportive environment because I’ve never known any gay athletes or had any gay friends in my life. All my life I’ve kind of been alone and dealing with these issues on my own,” he said.

His experiences are quite different than Hasson’s, who felt very comfortable throughout her college soccer career due to the fact that there had been several older soccer players who were already out. She also attributes much of her positive experience to the supportive environment of Whitman as a whole. 

“Being at Whitman and being on the soccer team at Whitman was crucial to my coming-out story. I think if I had gone to another school, it would have taken me a lot longer to come out, and I think Whitman was a blessing in that respect,” said Hasson.

The Whitman Athletic Department, headed by Director of Athletics Dean Snider, has worked to bring Hasson’s perception of Whitman as an open and comfortable atmosphere into the more conservative world of sports. Snider, a member of the LGBTQ sub-committee of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, firmly believes in providing a non-judgmental environment for athletes.

“We accept and celebrate people’s differences, whether that be ethnic or socioeconomic or, in this case, sexual orientation,” said Snider. “Everyone is welcome here.”

The athletic department has a strict nondiscrimination policy that Snider does his best to uphold. He also has the help of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization striving to end homophobia and transphobia in sports. Senior swimmer Claire Collins, Whitman’s Athlete Ally representative, feels that the program has been both productive and rewarding.

“I have had multiple individuals from the LGBTQ community, athletes and non-athletes, come up to me and thank me for my efforts with Athlete Ally. It is these moments that make me very happy that Athlete Ally exists. The program at Whitman is still very new and has a lot of growth, but overall I think its presence on campus has been very positive,” said Collins in an email. 

However, Smith feels that the Athlete Ally program has not made much of a difference, and he feels some of their members may not be sincere in their efforts to help LGBTQ athletes.

“I know there’s that Athlete Ally stuff, but people don’t take that seriously. I know these people, and they may say one thing but do another thing,” he said.

When asked to comment, Collins expressed disappointment in the actions of these Athlete Ally members and insisted that there are members who are firmly behind the cause.

“I am sorry that [Smith] feels that way about Athlete Ally. I cannot control how his teammates treat him or how other athletes treat him. I understand that ‘Athlete Ally Nights’ and stickers are not enough. But I know there are athletes, including myself, that sincerely want to make sure all LGBTQ athletes feel included,”  said Collins.

Although he has found a few close friends at Whitman with whom he has found genuine support, Smith’s sexual orientation has put a serious strain on many of his friendships. 

“Some of my former friends, I think they got an inkling that I was gay, and I lost some friendships, which is really sad. But I learned who my allies were and who weren’t,” he said.

These former friends did not treat Smith’s sexuality as a non-issue, which is all he really wants.

“I know some people who know [about my sexual orientation] and don’t care, and that’s all I want. I wish people wouldn’t make such a big deal of it,” he said.

Snider feels this is the best way to be supportive of LGBTQ athletes––be an ally without giving special treatment.

“I’ve worked with gay athletes and gay people on our staff, and in my view it has always been inconsequential, except to be a support for them in a national athletic climate that might not always be as supportive,” he said.

Despite this mutual understanding between the administration and athletes, LGBTQ athletes still sometimes feel isolated. While there are those like Hasson, who not only had a great experience, but was named soccer captain for two years after she came out, there are also many like Smith, who has not found the community he was looking for at Whitman.

“I wish I could have had a normal college experience and found a group of like-minded people, but I haven’t found them,” he said.

Hasson found a community of both gay and straight allies to make her Whitman athletic experience a positive one. Smith has no such support group. However, he hopes that by sharing his experience, he can help others like him.

“I guess I told you all this because I want other people to not feel as alone as I did. It’s rough, but you get through it, one way or the other,” he said.

*Name has been changed.