December 13, 2010
>Lessons from Belmont University: The Times, They Are Changing
>By Pat Griffin
As announced last month, Dr. Pat Griffin has joined GLSEN to develop and direct a program to address anti-LGBT bias and behavior in sports in K-12 sports. Changing the Game—the GLSEN Sports Project will launch next year and will assist K-12 schools in creating and maintaining an athletic and physical education climate that is based on the core principles of respect, safety and equal access for all students and coaches regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
Over the past week the media has provided extensive coverage of the dismissal of the women’s soccer coach at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. Lisa Howe, a lesbian, coached soccer at Belmont for six years. She was by all accounts a popular coach of unquestioned integrity whose teams achieved success on the field. According to the soccer team, though Howe had never come out as a lesbian to the team, they assumed that she was. It didn’t matter to them. She was an effective coach whom they respected and liked.
Lisa Howe kept her personal life separate from her professional life until this fall when her partner, whom the team knew, became pregnant. The team was beginning to suspect that Lisa’s partner was pregnant and rumors began to circulate on the team. Lisa decided that it was important to tell the team so that they heard the news from her despite the fact that the athletic director was ignoring her requests for permission to tell them. So she did.
Right after Lisa told her team about her partner’s pregnancy and, by doing so, coming out to the team, the athletic director called her into his office. When she left the office she was no longer the Belmont women’s soccer coach.
The women’s soccer team was confused and upset by the loss of their coach. They went to the athletic director, who according to them, said that Howe had violated the school’s unofficial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. As a result, she would have to leave her coaching position.
In the days following the announcement of Lisa Howe’s departure, something quite amazing happened. Belmont students, faculty and staff vocally and publicly protested the decision to let her go. Students organized public rallies, requested meetings with administrators, led letter writing campaigns, and conducted a sit-in at the university president’s office. Students made clear their belief that university administrators’ decision to dismiss a coach because of her sexual orientation was contrary to the university’s mission statement, which states,
Belmont students understand this mission statement to include LGBT people and were shocked to find that university administrators did not. Rather than accepting their elders’ assumption that living a Christ-centered life is incompatible with welcoming LGBT community members, the student protesters at Belmont are insisting on a more inclusive Christianity.
What can LGBT high school athletes and allies and their parents learn from the situation at Belmont University?
One lesson is power of students acting in concert to make their voices heard and their values known. Another lesson is to look more deeply into the lived values of a school rather than accepting at face value statements on the school’s web page about “valuing diversity” or treating a diverse student population with dignity or the importance of divergent perspectives.
How can LGBT prospective students and their parents identify the lived values of a potential school and its athletic programs?
Ask questions like the following:
• Does the school have a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity/expression as protected category?
Choose a school that offers:
• Academic programs you are interested in pursuing.
Read related articles surrounding Belmont University’s former women’s soccer coach, Lisa Howe: