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Stanford, Cal athletes unite for LGBT inclusion event

KATLYN ALAPATI/The Stanford Daily

KATLYN ALAPATI/The Stanford Daily

Students, student-athletes and others from the Stanford community gathered at Burnham Pavilion Wednesday night for We A.R.E. (Athletes Reaching Equality) Pride — an evening of art displays and a panel discussion on LGBT inclusion among athletes.

Organized by members of the Stanford and UC-Berkeley women’s basketball teams, Toni Kokenis ’14 and Mikayla Lyles respectively, the panel event and art show were part of a weeklong initiative that seeks to promote safe and supportive communities for LGBT athletes, as well as raise awareness of LGBT issues in sports.

Panelists at Wednesday’s event included Pat Griffin, founding director for Changing the Game: The Gay and Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Sports Project; Wade Davis, former NFL player and LGBT activist and educator; Helen Carroll, director of the National Center for Lesbian Right’s Sports Project and Nevin Caple, co-founder of the Br{ache the Silence Campaign.

Kokenis — one of the co-founders of Stanford Athletes and Allies Together (StAAT) — noted that organizations both within and outside of the Stanford community have been supportive and helpful in putting on the week’s programming. Sponsors include the Stanford Athletic Department, the Cal Athletic Department, You Can Play and the Weiland Health Initiative, among others.

Right before Wednesday evening’s featured programming, guests were able to view a collection of photographs featuring student-athletes from Stanford and UC-Berkeley hanging out together. The images — part of a project by visual artist Mollie McClure — promoted inclusion and acceptance, which both Lyles and Kokenis hoped to emulate in setting aside the Cal and Stanford rivalry to co-coordinate the week’s events.

“There’s no symbol more powerful than bringing together two rivals,” Kokenis said.

The night’s formal programming kicked off with the screening of a video montage of short clips of prominent figures in both athletic and LGBT communities expressing their support and opinions about LGBT inclusion in sports.

The montage was followed by a short documentary, “Crossing the Line,” by Hillary Streeter ’14 on homophobia and gender stereotypes in sports at Stanford. The film — made possible by a grant from the Bingham Fund for Student Innovation in Human Biology — featured individual interviews with a range of Stanford student-athletes across all sports and genders, discussing stereotypes about their sports, and the consequences of these preconceptions of gender and sexuality.

The evening culminated with the panel discussion and a Q&A with the audience. The discussion centered on the importance of fostering a safe, respectful and open environment in athletics and acceptance of all facets of one’s identity.

“One of the other really important intersections we need to pay attention to when we’re talking about LGBT issues in sports is that we all know we’re not just our sexual orientation; we’re also many, many other things that make up the cluster of who we are,” Griffin said, mentioning race as one of the additionally important aspects within the LGBT community.

While issues regarding the more difficult challenges currently facing LGBT athletes were raised, the real focus of the talk and night was one of positivity and support.

Davis emphasized the necessity of acceptance and support on both sides of the issue when he discussed the importance of willingness to find a common ground. He explained how the best tactic to help an individual or organization foster a more inclusive and safe environment — or eliminate homophobia — is to work with the individual or organization, rather than accuse them and expect them to be receptive.

In terms of LGBT inclusion specific to Stanford, Kokenis noted that while Stanford has made a lot of progress in LGBT inclusion in sports, athletics still seems to be less of a safe space as the rest of the Stanford community.

The weeklong initiative will come to a close after a diversity inclusion workshop for high school students and a youth teamwork clinic held later in the week.

However, Kokenis and Lyles certainly don’t see this as the end.

“We’re planning on not having this be a one-time deal,” Kokenis said, who hopes this type of event will spread to other colleges and universities throughout the country.

Contact Samantha Neuber at sneuber ‘at’ stanford.edu.