During my tenure as executive director at Athlete Ally, I have seen, with rare exception, that maximizing positive outcomes means balancing punishment with empowerment. It requires establishing frameworks and systems that ensure uniform processes, protocols, and practices across sport governing bodies. Without such processes, protocols, and practices, examples of allyship are less easily communicated to the public, less easily celebrated by our community, and less easily understood by the organizations themselves.
While we’ve made tremendous progress in our efforts to build inclusive athletic environments over the past few years, our efforts remain patchwork, with teams, leagues and governing bodies operating inconsistently in how they relate to LGBTQ inclusion. To help provide an industry-wide framework and benchmark, Athlete Ally has developed a first-of-its-kind, multidimensional model for assessing, amplifying, and institutionalizing LGBTQ allyship in a way that celebrates progress as much as it discourages prejudice. The Athletic Equality Index uses an in-depth analysis and rating methodology that scored all 65 members of the NCAA Power 5 Conferences as it relates to nine critically important LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices. This historic inaugural report celebrates schools that excel, highlights schools that fall short, and recommends areas of improvement, all together guiding teams toward major policy advances and organizational commitments to equality.
Our report was based on a program’s demonstration of two critical components: the implementation and accessibility of policies and practices. Accessibility is a fundamental part of a commitment to inclusion. If an institution’s policies and practices aren’t communicated and readily accessible, the ability for them to be utilized and benefited from is inherently called into question. It follows research from both Human Rights Watch and GLSEN, both of which have outlined the benefits of accessibility to the LGBTQ community and the detriments a lack of accessibility can have.
The findings of the Athletic Equality Index were staggering. Consider the following.
Only five schools had a fan code of conduct that explicitly prohibited anti-LGBTQ language and behaviors in the stands, and 34 schools lacked an accessible code of conduct for fan behavior at all. Furthermore, more than half of the schools struggled to create space for conversations about LGBTQ inclusion in their athletic department — and didn’t have available spaces for student athlete involvement on LGBTQ efforts or make a pro-LGBTQ statement on behalf of the program.
Over the past month, we’ve connected with more than 20 athletic departments in the Power 5 that used this time to update their policies, implement new practices, make their information more accessible, altogether strengthening their commitments to LGBTQ inclusion.
While some changes may involve a more timely process, such as adopting inclusive nondiscrimination policies, some components can be updated by making smaller changes and aligning with existing guidance and policy. Only nine out of the 65 schools in the Power Five have stated that they comply with the NCAA’s guidance for the inclusion of transgender athletes on varsity teams — which was published in 2011.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss the abundance of great work being done — an overwhelming number of schools have LGBTQ-inclusive resources for student athletes, are participating in pro-LGBTQ campaigns, and have comprehensive nondiscrimination policies that apply to their athletic department. Schools are investing in inclusive education and staff members are coming forward as vocal allies or as LGBTQ themselves. There are a variety of great organizations and individuals working in this space, and we’re excited about the Athletic Equality Index being used as a tool to assist them in their pursuit of equality.
As it stands, progress made will be isolated and inconsistent without an index. As such, the AEI brings our movement into a new era of advocacy, transparency, and accountability. Institutions will no longer be able to cite a lack of data and reporting as a rationale for inaction and will offer an industry-wide benchmark for the progress needed to achieve the full dignity and inclusion of the LGBTQ community in sport.
We hope the AEI will act as the catalyst needed for institutions to continue the pursuit of proactive LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices. We believe that everyone should have equal access, opportunity and experience in sport, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Athlete Ally hopes the AEI will bring us one step closer to that reality.
HUDSON TAYLOR is the executive director of Athlete Ally.