LGBTQ Inclusion Summit Series Kicks off at Virginia State University - Higher Education
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LGBTQ Inclusion Summit Series Kicks off at Virginia State University

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by Jamal E. Mazyck

The leading LGBTQ education organization Campus Pride launches its first HBCU Sports Inclusion Summit series this week at Virginia State University. The event will feature a keynote by openly gay former NFL player Wade Davis II. Davis will discuss the significance of athletics on HBCU campuses creating a culture of respect and inclusiveness. Campus Pride seeks to improve athletic spaces and create inclusive policies, programs and practices in sports.

Virginia State University

Virginia State University

“Campus Pride is committed to helping provide additional support and the necessary resources for HBCUs like Virginia State University. The campus has taken positive strides over the past few years and we want to bring a positive light to that work and support further actions,” said Shane Windmeyer, Executive Director of Campus Pride. “Virginia State is leading the way for HBCUs—athletics on campus is key to that future progress.”

Davis serves as executive director of the New York-based You Can Play Project, which advocates for LGBTQ inclusion in professional sports. Although he regularly hosts LGBTQ training sessions for coaches and upper management officials at several of the leagues, Davis understands the significance of speaking to HBCU student-athletes, coaches and administrators.

“Too often I hear myths that our community is not accepting, loving and embracing of LGBTQ individuals. Not to say there are no spaces for acceptance, but in my experience it is no different than white, Latinx or Asian LGBTQ spaces. We do however need to debunk these myths that LGBTQ people of color are not affirming and that message should come from a nonjudgmental perspective,” said Davis.

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This is the first of three HBCU Sports Inclusion Summit events planned for fall 2016. The other two events will be hosted at North Carolina Central University and Alabama A&M University to better equip campuses with LGBTQ resources. Davis will also be featured at these events as part of the You Can Play Project, which works to ensure the safety and inclusion of all in sports including LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans. Funding support for the summits came in part from the LGBT Sports Foundation and the NCAA Office of Inclusion.

“Many athletes are thought to be homophobic. That’s just not the idea that I hold for young people. Part of it is trying to get them to understand that college athletes are keepers of power. They have an opportunity and in some spaces an obligation to speak out on inclusion. Athletes already have a welcoming skillset since every year they are going to be meeting new teammates from a different race, religion, class, etc. They have been doing the work of accepting their entire lives. This is no different,” said Davis.

Athletic departments in higher education extending beyond HBCU institutions tend to have challenges discussing LGBTQ issues, but the leadership at Virginia State University was open to a candid conversation about inclusion. Entering her 13th year, Athletic Director Peggy Davis said, “We know that the landscape of our students is changing and we as administrators are here to provide service and a quality college experience to our students. We wanted our student athletes to have the experience of gaining knowledge that represents all people.”

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Davis was forthcoming about anticipating resistance from the student athletes but was pleased with the response. “We were a little hesitant on how the student athletes would respond, but feedback from the discussion and interaction with [Wade] Davis was amazing. We had athletes from all 16 of our sports represented from football, to cheerleading to bowling.”

Campus Pride has been diligent in working with HBCU campuses in different stages of outreach and support. When asked whether it is difficult for HBCUs to get on board with LGBTQ issues in athletic programs, Windmeyer was optimistic. “It’s not that HBCUs don’t want to get on board; they just may not have the resources or know how to implement an inclusive strategy suitable for their campus. Different campuses have different needs and varying budgets so we work to tailor our resources to the individual needs of the campus.”

Although LGBTQ inclusion may be seen as fairly new to athletic departments at HBCUs, Peggy Davis discussed the importance of these dialogues across all higher education institutions. “People shy away from what they do not know. Because of the amount of education, literature and discussions, it is now easier for administrators to say let’s do it. Athletics is a gateway to the institution and are more diverse at higher education institutions, so why not start there.”

“Our primary goal with these Summit events is to invest in sports inclusion at HBCUs and to help foster a more welcoming, affirming space for LGBTQ individuals on campus,” said Windmeyer. “We chose HBCUs that have taken positive action so others can do the same.”

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Jamal E. Mazyck can be reached at J.e.mazyck@gmail.com and on Twitter at @jmbeyond7

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