Although discussions regarding LGBTQIA+ experiences within the athletic community have become increasingly diversified, there remains more to be talked about.
Senior Olivia Engle, a member of the women’s lacrosse team, shared her experience as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community within Whitman athletics. For Engle, identifying as a queer student-athlete produces ambivalent emotions of her own as she attempts to enjoy her personal life while also dealing with the perception of her identity from the public eye.
“For me, being a gay/lesbian woman in the athletic department has simultaneously been liberating and anxiety provoking,” Engle said. “Being an athlete gives certain visibility on campus that can be really beneficial as a platform, but also places a lot of stress on how others see me. There have been certain situations on campus where I felt as though my identity as a gay athlete could have the potential to limit my professional appearance.”
Despite such anxieties, Engle has found her biggest support system on campus to be her teammates, and it is through their support that she is able to thrive as an individual and an athlete.
“On the other hand, it has been liberating and is a place to be me,” Engle said. “My teammates have been some of the most supportive and caring people I know. I feel like I can be myself around them and we are able to just play the sport we all love.”
Tennis player Tom Chang agreed that his team is also his greatest support system here in the Whitman community.
“I think Whitman is a very supportive environment,” Chang said. “I feel like I have been grateful to have such supportive friends who also happen to be my teammates.”
However, some Whitties believe that support is lacking in some areas of Whitman athletics. Blythe Eikerman, a junior on the ultimate frisbee team, highlighted her concerns for the queer community within athletics.
“Something that is lacking is more recognition for different gender identities, be it trans, non-binary, gender fluidity and acknowledgement of different queer identities in men’s sports,” Eikerman said.
Eikerman also encouraged those in and out of the athletic department to share about their identity if they are comfortable with who they are.
“If you’re comfortable with it try to share it,” Eikerman said, “you may be surprised to see how many people might resonate with you.”
Both Engle and Chang acknowledge that coming out is never easy or simple, and even more so within the realm of athletics.
“Discussing sexuality with others is such a tough thing, especially in sports,” Chang said. “Nothing should be forced and everyone should be able to talk about it on their own time and when they are ready.”
Engle expanded upon Chang’s remarks, emphasizing the importance of validating one’s identity and finding support within a community.
“But, no matter what level of comfortability you are at with your identity, know that you are valid and that there is a huge community of loving people that are waiting with open arms to let you in when you are ready,” Engle said.
There are many individuals who identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community within Whitman College Athletics, and athletes such as Chang, Engle and Eikerman represent just three of many experiences.