Cal athletes lead LGBT awareness campaign

Cal Athletics/Courtesy
Athletic Director Sandy Barbour speaks in a YouTube video in support of LGBT athletes

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A year after co-founding Cal’s Student Athlete Gay-Straight Alliance, Cal women’s rower Heather Hargreaves had another idea for combating homophobia in sports.

Around the country, a campaign dedicated to eradicating homophobia by featuring videos of prominent athletes was gaining traction. The You Can Play Project, which forged its first major partnership with the National Hockey League last year, quickly spread to professional teams in other leagues across North America, as well as schools such as Duke University and UCLA.

So Hargreaves, mindful of the stigmas associated with gay athletes, decided Cal should produce its own video in support of LGBT athletes.

“It can be hard being an athlete sometime,” Hargreaves, who recently graduated, said. “You can feel isolated and alienated in a sense because there’s not many out athletes on our team. We wanted to change the culture and create a community where everyone feels like who they are.”

In a time of accelerating support and awareness for LGBT issues across the sports world, Cal Athletics released a video on Friday in support of athletes from any sexual orientation. The two-minute clip is the result of a process that began in mid-April when Hargreaves and SAGSA co-chair Vanessa Gerber met with associate athletic director Jennifer Simon-O’Neill.

The co-chairs organized interviews with dozens of athletes, coaches and both former UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau and current Chancellor Nicholas Dirks. A second video will also be released by Cal Athletics later this summer.

Athletic director Sandy Barbour said the campaign is particularly appropriate on a campus known for its inclusion of various minority groups.

“It’s really important to me that every one of our student athletes, coaches and staff knows that they can participate regardless of sexual preference or gender identity,” Barbour said.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the video’s message reflects Dirks’ vision of a campus respectful of students from every ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.

“The primary message aligns with his vision, a long-held vision, regarding what kind of environment people want to see at UC Berkeley,” Mogulof said.

But the video is a stepping stone to a larger goal. Although Hargreaves is happy with the surging support for gay athletes across the country, she would like to see the movement expanded to include transgender athletes.

“Everybody has things to say about gay athletes and how great it is that they’re coming out,” Hargreaves said. “But with transgender athletes, it’s a whole new frontier on every level. A lot of people misunderstand issues of transgender people.”

The UC Berkeley policy on transgender athlete participation has been used as a template for similar policies at other universities. The details of the policy will be made publicly available in the coming months, according to Simon-O’Neill.

Contact Chris Yoder at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @christiancyoder.