Even today, homophobia and transphobia are very real issues for LGBTQI+ people. However, there is a groundswell of support for the fight against these forms of discrimination. A growing number of people are committing to create safe and inclusive spaces for the LBGTQ+ community. These people are known as ‘allies’.
Becoming an LGBTQ+ ally in the sporting arena
“I wrestled since I was six years old, and I was very good at my sport. I was a three time All-American and in my senior year in college, I was ranked number two in the country in my weight class. I had plans to become a coach and train for the Olympics.”
So how did he go from there to founding a charity?
“Besides wrestling I was also involved in theater and the arts, so I was a part of two very different worlds. In one, I had LGBT friends who were coming out and being treated with dignity and respect. In the other, I had teammates using homophobic and sexist language on a daily basis. That juxtaposition made me take a step back.”
Hudson wants to level the playing field, because he believes there is no room for discrimination in sport.
“Sport should be a space where everybody can maximize their potential. It should be a space that is built on diversity and built on inclusion, but we are conducting ourselves in a way that is isolating, excluding and even endangering a percentage of the population. That’s wrong.
I decided to start speaking out as an ally by wearing an LGBT sticker on my head gear. I should say at the time, I had zero intention of starting a non-profit organization, or making it my life’s work, but the sticker literally changed my life.”
Starting the conversation
“First, it started a difficult dialogue with my teammates. Then one day after practice, one of my coaches pulled me aside and asked if I’d be willing to take part in an interview about why I was wearing the sticker and supporting the LGBT community. I didn’t know it at the time, but that coach of mine was actually closeted. He was with me every day, hearing me have these heated exchanges with my teammates, but wasn’t comfortable saying something himself.
After sharing my email address in the interview, I received over 2,000 emails from closeted athletes from across the country, who said, “I just read this article and I’m going to try out for my wrestling team.”
“I was bawling just reading those emails. I think I took a lot of what sport has given me for granted. My relationship with sport has been nothing but positive. It’s opened every door for me. It’s made me my friends. It’s a huge part of my identity and who I am. Reading email after email after email, it became clear that we are denying that same experience to an entire population of people and that’s a tragedy that literally plays out at every level of sport globally.
It got me thinking if I could get 2,000 emails as a wrestler (not the most popular of sports) imagine if I had been a professional footballer making a similar statement. That impact would be exponential. That was really the birth of Athlete Ally.”
Now almost 10 years old Athlete Ally’s mission is to end the rampant homophobia and transphobia in sport and to activate the athletic community to exercise their leadership to champion LGBTQI+ equality. The organization works closely with teams and institutions to develop clear and accessible policies around LGBTQI+ inclusion.
Taking the first steps to becoming an ally for the LGBTQ+ community
Of course, being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community is not limited to the sporting arena, we can be allies in all walks of life. The charity Stonewall has been campaigning for the LGBTQ+ community since 1989. Maria Munir is the Associate Director of Community Engagement, they encourage everyone to be an ally and support all LGBT+ communities. I asked them what people should do if they want to engage in LGBT+ allyship but are afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing.
They tell me this is a common feeling and that a good place to start is educating yourself about the topic to build up your knowledge and confidence. The Stonewall website is full of good information and also has a helpful glossary that defines the terms that you may have not encountered before, or been too afraid to ask about.
There are so many great LGBT+ people who invite you to listen to their experiences and knowledge through podcasts like Busy Being Black or One From The Vaults, books like Trans Like Me, and/or following a local LGBT+ organisation on social media and attending open events.
Maria says one very easy place to start is by considering the language you use, and whether there are different or better options. This can be particularly useful for trans inclusion, but as Maria says, 2020 highlighted the vital importance of being an ally for all LGBT+ communities, particularly QTIPBOC (queer, trans and intersex Black people and people of colour), and disabled LGBT+ people.
As an ally, you can help make these spaces welcoming and accepting by adapting your behaviour, for example, addressing a group of people as ‘everyone’ instead of saying ‘ladies and gentlemen’. These changes start small but can have huge impacts on making people feel comfortable and confident.”
Hudson also says that, like him, those of us who want to engage in allyship will inevitably go on a journey. “Maybe challenging somebody who’s using homophobic language feels uncomfortable for you today. That’s okay, but maybe you can start by just wearing Pride laces at your next game. The goal is not to get you to make a huge leap to a place where you’re not comfortable. It’s trying to assess where you are today and work out what your next step is that will make your space more inclusive.
As a final thought I asked Hudson what he would tell someone who was new to the idea of being an ally.
“Know that you can have an enormous impact on a person’s life. More that you will never know. I think that the truth is that everybody can do something to be an LGBTQI+ ally and that as long as you’re doing something, you are contributing to making the world a better place for the people in it.”
Ready to become an ally for the LGBTQ+ community in your workplace or sports team? Read more great information and advice here.