September 2014 - Founder of ATHLETE ALLY
What did you want to become when you were a child?
When I was a child I dreamed of becoming an actor or singing on broadway. Singing and acting were opportunities to walk in someone else's shoes and express myself in ways that athletics did not allow.
How did Athlete Ally come about?
Athlete Ally came about because of a sticker. My senior year in college I began the wrestling season ranked number 1 in the country in my weight class. With the passage of Proposition 8 in California and increased visibility around LGBT bullying and suicide, I decided to begin my senior season wearing a Human Rights Campaign Sticker on my headgear to show support for the LGBT community. Because of this simple act I received over 2,000 emails from closeted athletes from across the country. It was these emails that made me realize the importance of allies. If a college wrestler could get 2,000 emails for wearing a sticker, then a professional athlete, team, or league speaking out could change the world. Athlete Ally was formed shortly thereafter to educate and activate allies in athletics to put an end to homophobia and transphobia in sports.
You are the founder, Executive Director, and Board Member of Athlete Ally; what do you expect to achieve with this great nonprofit organization:
I envision a future where sports welcome everyone without prejudice or stereotypes, and where athletic communities work together to champion lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality. I expect the work of Athlete Ally to help change the culture of sports so that athletes are no longer isolated, segregated, or excluded because of who they love or how they identify.
What has been your greatest accomplishment so far:
My greatest accomplishment has been our ability to mobilize athlete voices around a cause that few had previously publicly supported. Being able to engage the athletes that young people look up to is changing how people see sports culture and what it means to be a leader and role model.
Who inspires you in the industry?
I am inspired by the athletes who are coming out. Their authenticity is a living example of why Athlete Ally does its work. I am also inspired by the countless emails I receive from closeted athletes who continue to deal with homophobia and transphobia in real and courageous ways.
What do you think about the stigma that an athlete's "coming out" is still considered (in most sports) as a career suicide?
I think that stigma is becoming increasingly outdated and untrue. Coming out in any industry is a calculation of risk vs. reward. We are fortunate to be living in an era where out athletes and vocal allies are showing the world that the perceived risks of coming out do not outweigh the personal and professional rewards. While there is still much work to be done, we are quickly putting to rest those obstacles to authenticity.
What aspects of your job do you like best/least?
I enjoy working with athletes the best. Engaging athletes in difficult conversations is where progress occurs and where I continue to find the most excitement. The aspects I like the least are the ones that remain difficult. Having never tried to build a successful and sustainable non-profit I still struggle with the everyday tasks of an executive director like fundraising and governance.
What makes you happy?
Magic. I study sleight of hand and magic theory regularly and never leave home without a deck of cards. Magic is an escape and truly a labor of love for me.
What is your favorite song at the moment, and of all time?
My favorite song at the moment is Glory Bound by Martin Sexton. When he breaks into a higher octave I can not help but sing along.
My all time favorite song is Trapeze Swinger by Iron and Wine - I love folk music with strong lyrics and a beautiful voice. The music of Iron and Wine is my happy place and this song is at the top of my list.
What are some of your favorite movies?
Shawshank Redemption. Dead Poets Society. These are two greats that always move and inspire.
What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
Probably magic again. I study it religiously and love inventing new sleights and routines.
Describe yourself in 5 words:
feminist. activist. wrestler. ally. imperfect.
Which living person do you admire most?
I admire the person who has the social and institutional odds stacked against her but is still doing everything she can to dismantle systems of oppression.
What do you most value in people?
I value people who have the courage to do what is right even when it is not popular.
Name 2 things people don't know about you:
I care as much about women's issues as I do about LGBT issues.
My biggest fear is that no one will come to my funeral.
What is your motto?
Return with Honor. Go towards the fear. Imagine Sisyphus Happy.
Return with honor - Every time you leave your home you have a certain amount of integrity and honor. Our goal should be to return at the end of the day with the same amount of honor and integrity with which we left.
Go towards the fear - To accomplish meaningful change in the world, we have to be willing to do things that frighten or intimidate us. This mantra helps me continue to strive to be better and bolder than I was before.
Imagine Sisyphus Happy - Bad things happen to good people. At times it can be difficult to make meaning of why this happens or how you maintain a positive worldview in the face tragedy and disappointment. Imagining Sisyphus happy is a way to do just that. Sisyphus was sentenced to roll a boulder up and down a hill for all eternity. If one can imagine Sisyphus happy, then no matter what happens you adopt a positive outlook.
Any advice for those wanting to become activists/allies in a good cause?
If there is a cause you care about, create a pledge. If there is a policy you want to see changed, make a petition. If you organize and mobilize you will change the world and there is no time like the present.
Any last words?
Everyone can do more for those that have less. Use what privilege you have to combat a prejudice.