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    Sports Pride in 2015

    kia3June has become Pride Month in locales around the globe, celebrating who we are as LGBTQ people, and the diversity of our lives and loves and choices as equal human beings on the planet. This is also a time to reflect on our past struggles, both individually and collectively; on our accomplishments to date and where we now; and where we’re going in our efforts to achieve full civil rights.

    Recently I was visiting my alma mater, Stanford University, where as an undergraduate I came out in the early days of Gay Liberation. It was amazing to walk openly into the ‘Old Firehouse’ where, years ago, I had squeamishly tiptoed by what was the brand new GPU building/Gay People’s Union. I remembered the shocking pain when one of the early GPU members, a man who had befriended me in my coming out process, was lost one terrible night to suicide. Homosexuality was still a very taboo topic to talk about, much less embrace, and it was hard to find more than a dozen or so people on campus who were out, much less proud.

    kiaIn those 1970s days, San Francisco Pride parades were in their infancy. People were first coming out of shadows and closets. Precious few LGBT support organizations or advocates existed. With each year and decade, agencies and projects have grown up to address every aspect of our lives and lifestyle. Today, stopping war and saving the environment seem more elusive now than then—yet I am amazed at the almost unimaginable strides forward that our prideful LGBTQ march to dignity and equality is making!

    In the realm of athletics, Nike just held its 4th annual June LGBT Sports Summit in Portland. The Summit was created to strengthen all of those who are working to end homophobic and transphobic bashing, bullying and bias in the sports world. Inclusion, safety and opportunity are gradually replacing the harassment and discrimination that LGBT athletes have faced across the board, since childhood. Athletics—from grade school PE, through high school and college, to recreational and professional sports—remains one of the last bastions where slurs and threats occur daily, and where it’s hardest to come out. Even the military has come to terms with our presence, in ways that sports teammates, scouts, coaches and the media have yet to reach.

    kia2Says Tim Hershey, Vice President of Global Merchandising for Nike and Executive Advisor to Nike’s LGBT Employee Network: “Nike is deeply committed to diversity, inclusion and unleashing the potential of all athletes.” In addition to holding this annual Sports Summit during Pride Month, Nike has just released their 2015 #BETRUE Collection of LGBT-inspired athletic gear. Alongside the famous swoosh logo, rainbow-colored city names and linings adorn sneakers, t-shirts and sports equipment. The message is clear: Just Do It and Be True to who you are!

    I’m thinking I might have to go Nike shopping, because the gear looks really good and is designed as a “call-to-action for all athletes to be their most authentic selves in June and all year long.” It’s pretty incredible to see this corporate sports giant, along with ESPN and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), reach out to partner with major players in the LGBTQ community: Outsports, You Can Play project, Federation of Gay Games, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), It Gets Better project, National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), StandUp Foundation, and others.

    Another Pride shopportunity in support of revolutionizing the sports world for our com-munity can be found at www.fearlessbookstore.com I can’t wait to get my copy of the newly released photographic memoir by artist Jeff Sheng entitled Fearless: Portraits of LGBT Student Athletes. Sheng shares his story of being a closeted varsity tennis player in high school, who quit playing because: “I believed that being openly gay and being a competitive athlete were incompatible with each other. There were no visible role models to show me otherwise.” He turned to photographic sociology, and has been producing epic work chronicling the courageous people literally changing the faces of our world. Even in 2015, it is groundbreaking to have a book that features 202 portraits of out LGBT student athletes, across a wide span of sports, ethnicities, sexuality and gender identities. The Fearless project is a brave and heartfelt work:

    “All proceeds from the Fearless Bookstore will go directly back…to help pay for more Fearless Project photo shoots, done entirely free by artist Jeff Sheng for athletes who volunteer to be in them. We hope that the sales of products here can help make possible…the continuation of the Fearless Project. Athletes who wish to be photographed can visit jeffsheng.com for more information.”

    Another very cool development is Campus Pride, a non-profit founded in 2001 to create safer and more LGBTQ-friendly learning environments at colleges and universities. Their vision is “campuses and a society free of anti-LGBTQ prejudice, bigotry and hate” and their work is “to develop student leaders, campus networks, and future actions to create such positive change.” The new Campus Pride Sports Index helps potential students assess how LGBT-friendly the practices and policies are at specific college campuses. Campus Pride offers change-making ‘Camp Pride’ leadership training every July, and the Sports Index is available free online.

    Thinking back to my own student days, I was a nationally ranked junior golf champion who didn’t play college golf because athletic scholarships didn’t yet exist for women. Title IX soon came in, mandating com-mensurate financial support for female as well as male student-athletes to pursue their sports talents and dreams. But I had already lost interest and lost out on all the fabulous experiences that go along with collegiate competition. And while women have gained support in sports, lesbian women to this day still have not. Despite our longstanding, obvious prevalence on every team and playing field, it remains rare and unsafe for lesbian athletes to disclose their true sexual preference or gender orientation. These are the barriers that remain to be broken, dismantled and dissolved.

    Pride is in the air everywhere. Have fun this week in San Francisco, and wherever you’re celebrating. Let’s breathe it all in and go out and play, wherever we choose, every day of the year!

    Jamie Leno Zimron is an LPGA Pro, Aikido 5th Degree Black Belt, and Corporate Speaker-Trainer. Please check out her website: http://www.thekiaiway.com