By David Duran
Originally published on Advocate.com September 06 2012 5:00 AM ET
Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, is using his non-profit sports organization to educate players at one of the highest possible levels — in the NBA.
After partnering with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, both organizations announced recently that the NBA is the first major sports league to take up Athlete Ally on its offer to train professional athletes. Hudson is no stranger to the sports world as a three-time all-American wrestler from the University of Maryland who now coaches at Columbia University.
Taylor spoke with The Advocate about why he believes targeting pro sports can change the world, and about what exactly he’ll tell the NBA during training.
The Advocate: You were a wrestler in college, what prompted you to stop?
Hudson Taylor: I started wrestling when I was 6 years old. Wrestling has been a part of my life ever since I can remember and has taught me some of the most important lessons I know. While I am not actively training to compete, I am still coaching at Columbia and trying to pass on some of the knowledge I have gained through the sport. Perhaps, I will find myself lacing up the shoes in the near future. Only time will tell.
Have you always been an ally to the LGBT community?
Absolutely not, it would be dishonest of me to say I never used a homophobic slur or that I never remained silent when I heard my friends and teammates use such language. The truth is, like many athletes, for most of my life as a competing athlete I was not conscious of my word choices and did not make other people conscious of theirs.
In previous interviews, you’ve said that you don't have close friends or family members who are gay. Has that changed?
More than you will ever know! Living in New York City and having met so many amazing people through my advocacy with Athlete Ally, most of my best friends and people I spend my time with are LGBT.
Walk me through the progression of your organization. You started off by sounding off about LGBT rights and speaking out by wearing an HRC sticker on your head gear, correct? How did a simple act of activism turn in to where you are today?
When I was a college wrestler, I didn’t think I would become a gay rights activist or start an organization. I was just trying to make small changes to the community of which I was a part of. But after interviewing about being an athlete ally and wearing the HRC sticker, I received so many inspiring emails that made me realize the importance of and power in straight allies advancing equality in sport through speaking out. If a college wrestler could get thousands of emails just for calling himself an athlete ally, then a football player, or coach, or professional athlete speaking out in support of the LGBT community in sports could change the world. Having realized the potential to make a difference through allyship, Athlete Ally was born.
What is Athlete Ally? Walk us through the organization, its mission and what it hopes to achieve.
Athlete Ally is a non-profit sports organization dedicated to educating and empowering the straight athletes in sports to speak out against homophobia and transphobia. I believe that a closeted athlete or coach’s comfort level with coming out is directly related to how many vocal allies that individual has in their life. As such, Athlete Ally works to educate athletes and coaches about why LGBT allyship is important, strategize ways to help more straight allies speak out, and how it directly works with student-athletes and coaches to build successful Athlete Ally campaigns on their team or in their athletic community.
Hudson Taylor wrestles last year's NCAA national champion from Cornell, Cam Simaz.
Athlete Ally has received support from numerous athletes. Can you elaborate?
One of the ways that we work with athletes is through our Athlete Ally Ambassador Program. To date, we have Athlete Ally ambassadors at almost 40 different universities who are helping us make a difference on their campus. The primary way we have done this is through the Athlete Ally Pledge. By helping our ambassador with talking points and scheduling meetings with the right individuals on campus, they can then work to get entire teams to sign the pledge. After teams agree to sign the pledge, we then work to get the school newspaper to cover the pledge signing.
The result is an athletic community that has raised awareness and accountability for the words and actions of their athletes and coaches through a proactive statement of LGBT allyship. Also, with an article written on the progress of one campus, we can then use that coverage to start advocating for other universities to do the same.
Tell us about the new partnership with, GLAAD, Athlete Ally and the NBA.
Earlier this summer, Athlete Ally partnered with GLAAD to begin providing ally trainings for all professional sports leagues and teams. The NBA was the first to sign on. Increasingly, professional leagues have made strong statements against the use of homophobic slurs on and off the field. Unfortunately, these incidents continue to occur on a fairly regular basis. Our hope with these trainings is to provide proactive education and resources to ensure that the next generation of professional athletes not only don’t use homophobic slurs, but that they have the confidence and means to actively speak out against it.
When will this training be launching and what does the training with the NBA involve?
I am happy to say that this training was presented for the first time … to the incoming NBA rookie classes! A 20-minute video that we made was presented to the rookie camp. Each year, the NBA takes about four days out for their incoming players to talk about contracts, media, training and other items which I am not sure about. We took the opportunity to show the video during the four days.
Are there plans to possibly provide the training to the already established NBA players or other sports leagues?
Currently, it’s just the rookie players. It’s a good place to try and break the cycle. The veteran NBA players may not be as inclined to listen. When you first transition from college to pro, that is the opportune time to do these types of trainings. We obviously would like to do it with every player on every team, in every league, but for now, the rookies are a good place to start. That being said, we are going to work together with as many professional sports team as interested.
What's next for Athlete Ally and for Hudson Taylor?
The background stuff is next on the agenda; building the board of directors and applying for grants. Up until now, there has been a lot of great momentum. Now, we need to make an organization that is going to be here five years from now. Fundraising to institutionalize Athlete Ally is of top priority. Our next major initiative involves having athletic teams wear an ally symbol on their uniforms during a game. If you look at college sports teams, a lot of them wear breast cancer support symbols on their uniforms. There is no reason that there should not be an equivalent for LGBT allyship. We are currently working on getting them designed and hoping to get teams to wear the patch in the upcoming year.
The NBA's 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 classes of rookies were shown a video presentation by Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor and Aaron McQuade, GLAAD Director of News and Field Media. They discussed what it means to be an ally to the LGBT community in the context of sports, the importance of being an ally, and how professional athletes can go about being allies. Moderators were there to take questions from the players, and both GLAAD and Athlete Ally offered an "open-door policy" for any pro sports player who has questions, comments or concerns about LGBT issues to contact us anytime, on or off the record.