Bay Ridge

Poly Prep hosts founder of nonprofit promoting acceptance of athletes of all sexual orientations

January 19, 2015 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, spoke at Poly Prep on Jan. 13. Photo courtesy of Poly Prep: Linda Busetti

Poly Prep’s Middle and Upper Schools welcomed Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, to their Tuesday morning chapels on Jan. 13.  During his presentation to assembled faculty and students, Taylor invited Poly student athletes to sign the Athlete Ally promise: “I pledge to lead my athletic community to respect and welcome all persons, regardless of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Beginning right now, I will do my part to promote the best of athletics by making all players feel respected on and off the field.”

Athlete Ally is a nonprofit organization that “provides public awareness campaigns, educational programming and tools and resources to foster inclusive sports communities…”

In another initiative, Taylor visits schools and speaks to students in grades K-8, high school and college “to educate and empower the next generation of athletes to fight homophobia and transphobia in sports.”

Mike Muska (Poly Prep’s Dean of College Relations) introduced Taylor at Upper School Chapel.

Muska, a high-school track star and college coach, spoke from personal experience about “making it safe for [LGBT] athletes to come out.”   

Muska came out as a gay man while he was an assistant director of athletics at Brown University.  He had to deal with anti-gay insults from outside groups while there and as the athletic director at Oberlin College, he said.

Taylor, 28, who is not gay, said he was a “three-time All American wrestler at the University of Maryland,” where he majored in theater. He is ranked among the top five pinners in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) wrestling history and holds several hall-of-fame records.  He has coached at Columbia University.

“For most of my life, ‘LGBT’ was just a bunch of letters,” Taylor shared with students.  But in a University of Maryland theater class, a friend, Matt, stood up one day to announce he was gay.  The class responded with a slow clap, which grew, and ended in hugs for Matt.  Taylor said he wished he had been the one to start the clapping.

Taylor described his own obstacles to being accepting and supportive of gay athletes. As a wrestler, Taylor said, “Sometimes, the locker room is not the most inclusive space.”  Early on in sports, we are divided along lines of gender, boys on one side, girls on the other, he said.  In addition, Taylor noted that he comes from a family with a strong “Christian missionary” tradition (including James Hudson Taylor, who founded the China Inland Mission during the 19th Century in China), who were not accepting of LGBT people.  In addition, he said, “We all have an innate desire to conform.” 

He asked the students how many had heard someone say in the previous week, “That’s so gay.”  Many had.  He asked how many had said something to the person making the comments. A few hands went up.

“I failed the awareness test,” Taylor said of himself in regard to being open to and accepting of gay athletes.  “It’s easy to miss something you are not looking for… All the time I was around other athletes, I didn’t think I knew anyone who was gay.  It was a failure of awareness on my part.”

After Matt’s announcement, Taylor wondered whether his teammates on the wrestling team would have responded with clapping.  He considered the type of language that athletes use which might be derogatory to LGBT people.  He told the Poly students they can “create a different culture.”

Taylor became “conscious of my words” and decided it was important to speak up.  “If you see something, say something.”

Taylor devised what he called the “platinum rule”: “Treat others as they want to be treated.”

Taylor explained that, eventually, he started to wear an “LGBT equality sticker” on his wrestling headgear during wrestling matches, which got noticed by the media. He was interviewed and, the next day, found he 2,000 emails in his inbox, many from “closeted athletes.” It was soon after that he founded Athlete Ally.

Taylor reminded students that “two seconds” could make a great difference.

“When you are about to say something or hear someone else say something. Take ownership. This is part of your history, part of your legacy,” he said.

At the end of his presentation, Taylor asked Poly athletes who have signed the pledge to come up. About 16 swimmers, baseball players, basketball players, runners and other athletes joined Taylor onstage in the Chapel.  They introduced themselves and some said why they thought it was important to sign the pledge. “I think everyone should feel comfortable in their own skin,” a baseball player shared.

“Everyone deserves respect,” added another athlete.

 

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