Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier sports editor
Three LGBTQ+ student athletes decided to share their experiences at Berry. Attending an institution with a religious background can be intimidating, and the following athletes express the positive, negative and neutral experiences they have had on their teams.
A sophomore defender on the women’s lacrosse team, Dylan Swan said she does not define her sexuality with any one label.
“I don’t identify with anything specific sexuality-wise,” Swan said. “I believe that sexuality is a big spectrum. It depends on everyone’s individuality, but for me it’s not defined by gender or anything like that. I just kind of let my heart do whatever it wants, and if it falls in love with a guy then it falls in love with a guy, same with a girl.”
Swan said that while the global sports community has some work to do in their acceptance of their LGBTQ+ members, she has seen a lot of progress in that domain as more professional athletes have come out as LGBTQ+. At Berry, however, Swan said more needs to be done to raise awareness.
“I think Berry likes to pretend it’s not a thing,” Swan said. “And then when people at Berry do find out that there are LGBTQ+ people on campus, they like to act surprised. Maybe they are surprised, but I feel like that shouldn’t be. It should be normalized that there are LGBTQ+ students on campus and they should be validated in their sexuality and not seen as something unordinary when it’s not unordinary. And then in sports, I feel like it’s the same thing. People aren’t aware that there are a lot of LGBTQ+ people that are athletes.”
To fix this, Swan said she would like to see Berry do more to promote their LGBTQ+ community in the same way that they promote their athletic programs or their animal science department.
“We only have one LGBTQ+ club on campus called LISTEN and barely anybody knows about it,” Swan said. “I feel like it would be really important to promote that more and make it more of an organization rather than just a little club. I feel like that would make students feel a lot more welcome.”
To help with this process, Swan participated in Solidarity Week’s “Being *Blank* at Berry panel” on Sept. 21, where she spoke about her experience as both a student athlete and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Swan said she was originally reluctant to join the panel because of a fear of being judged, but she felt the experience was necessary to her personal growth and she was happy with the outcome.
“I asked them if I could be on the panel because I believed personally it was a step that I needed to take in my journey, in accepting who I am and not judging myself as much as other people do,” Swan said. “It definitely helped and all of my friends are very supportive and a bunch of my teammates came up to me after the panel and said how good I did and how they’re proud of me and a lot of random people actually messaged me on Instagram saying how good I did and they’re so glad that I talked about it. So I don’t regret it. I definitely think it was something I needed to do.”
Despite these positive responses, Swan said she did get some backlash as well. Friends informed her that students had made discriminatory remarks about her in the Zoom chat and she received dirty looks after the event while walking around campus. While she said she does not want to give this hate any attention, knowing a lot of it came from other sports was a painful blow to take.
“I feel like, as athletes, we already go through a lot of stress, so I feel like we shouldn’t judge each other for personal things like that,” Swan said. “It was kind of discouraging.”
Swan said that was not the first time she has had to face homophobic remarks, as back in high school she was called names she did not wish to repeat. And while Berry administration should take some blame, the problem is more at an individual level, according to her.
“Definitely part of it is Berry’s fault for not being aware and not publicly accepting their LGBTQ+ students, but I also think it’s just individual people that need to check themselves and really ask themselves why they are saying these things,” Swan said.
Swan said she had been fortunate, however, that nothing that bad happened on her sports teams, with her only problem coming in the difficulties some coaches had in relating to her experiences.
“All the teams I’ve been a part of have been pretty accepting of the fact that I’m a part of the community,” Swan said. “I know some coaches that I’ve had have not really understood the aspects of being gay or being part of the community and I try my best to educate them, but it’s also hard, because they just don’t understand. They just have questions and questions and questions and it’s hard to answer questions that no one really understands unless they’ve been through it. But no bad stuff.”
Swan said she did, however, notice that some of her teammates were made uncomfortable talking to her after they found out she was part of the LGBTQ+ community. While Swan never came out up front to them, she said she chose instead to bring up her girlfriends during conversations, and some of her teammates were cool with it, but not all.
“Others will be changing the subject almost immediately and would rather talk about guy on girl relationships and not girl on girl relationships, which definitely makes me feel really excluded from a lot of things,” Swan said. “Sometimes I feel like, because of my sexuality, a lot of my teammates don’t want to be friends with me and don’t want to get to know me.”
Swan said that that did not apply to all of them, however, as some do support her.
“I actually had one teammate on National Coming Out Day message me privately and tell me how proud they were, proud of me for being open and who I am, and I definitely really appreciated that,” Swan said. “So it’s not all my teammates who don’t support me, but I can definitely tell which ones do and which ones don’t.”
Swan said instances like these are important, because one of the best ways to help the LGBTQ+ community is through meaningful shows of support.
“When I say show support, I don’t mean come wearing your pride flag and wave it during my game,” Swan said. “I just want to be talked to either individually or as a whole, like ‘hey, I support you and I love you for who you are and like.’ Even that just makes my heart feel really good. And publicly is really awesome also, like speaking about it on social media or helping the LGBTQ+ community have more CE credits. I feel like CE credits would be a really good thing to have for Berry, because it definitely is a part of culture.”
Swan also said she wants that support to encompass all facets of her personality.
“I think just the individual support and having conversations about it is a big thing, and not just supporting one side of me,” Swan said. “Yes, when I step on the field I’m not anything but a lacrosse player, but I definitely, when I’m off the field, want to be supported as a lacrosse player, animal science major and being gay or LGBTQ+. I feel like that would help a lot.”
Because she feels this support is invaluable to the LGBTQ+ cause, Swan said she was disappointed when, on National Coming Out Day, no Berry accounts posted anything about the occasion.
“Literally no student organizations, no Berry organizations had said happy National Coming Out Day or that they were proud of their students, for the ones who are out and not out, just being proud of who they are,” Swan said. “None of them had posted anything about National Coming Out Day, including my team, which definitely hurt, and I felt very unsupported.”
For Swan, this was just another confirmation of what she already knew about Berry’s position on the matter.
“It showed me that Berry doesn’t support their LGBTQ+ students like I thought they did,” Swan said. “They like to say that they do, and when people come to admissions meetings and tours, Berry likes to put on a front and make the incoming students feel like they’re going to be supported, and they’re not, and I feel like that’s a huge problem with Berry. It’s not just the LGBTQ+ community, it’s all minority communities on campus.”
Swan said that this disconnect between words and actions shows itself in individuals as well, as she has noticed that many people, including teammates, will tell her that they are in favor of equal rights but do not take any real action to support this claim. She said that was one of the reasons members of the LGBTQ+ community struggle to speak up about these issues.
“We’re just all afraid to be open, or afraid to be open to our coaches about it, or afraid to be open to our athletic director about it,” Swan said. “Because we know that upfront and in person, they’ll say that they support us, but when it comes down to what we really need, they don’t really do anything.”
This creates a need to hide a part of one’s self, which is an extremely painful experience, according to Swan.
“Our sexuality and orientation and gender, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is a part of our identity,” Swan said. “To have to hide that, it’s so hard and it’s heart-breaking.”
Cydney Maddox is a junior midfielder on the women’s lacrosse team who identifies as bisexual. She said that while she feels supported on her team, she believes Berry still has some aspects to improve on.
“Berry College I think, as with a lot of places, is doing okay, but could definitely be doing better,” Maddox said. “I think that with the active involvement of the LISTEN club now, Berry is a much better place. I know in the past that the club was very controversial and there was lots of taboo and drama surrounding it, but now I think it’s very accepted and very welcome on campus. I do think that they’re making strides in order to engage with campus people outside of the club more which is great, but I do think that the policies that they bring up that they want addressed could be addressed a little bit better and Berry doesn’t necessarily do a great job of handling that. For example, the kind of discriminatory policy against having members of different genders in your dorm after a certain period of time, it’s not necessarily equal and I think that’s something that they strive for that should be addressed a little bit better.”
Coming from a more progressive part of Georgia, in Atlanta, than more conservative Rome, Maddox said she was originally cautious about coming out to her peers. When her teammates would talk about their relationships, she would usually keep to herself, but she said she has since come out to them and feels she was wrong to be worried.
“I realize now that there was no actual reason to be hesitant at all,” Maddox said. “Our team is very diverse and very welcoming and accepting, which I think is huge. If anything, I think it made me more approachable and kind of relatable. People appreciated an insight to my life the same way that, as we continued to be a team, as we continue to hang out and do fellowship together, I learn more about them.”
Maddox is on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee this year and said she is proud to use that platform to promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity.
“One of our big themes is unity specifically within sports, so I think that we’re actively making an effort to try to include people,” Maddox said. “Part of our diversity day that’s going to be coming up at the end of the month is highlighting diversity, not only racially, which is a hot topic right now, but all sorts, like sexual orientation and everything. And I’m proud to be able to champion that.”
Despite her positivity, Maddox said there is still much that needs be done to help LGBTQ+ members, such as having conversations at an individual level to help get rid of ignorant comments. Part of that, according to her, can come from increased accountability amongst peers.
“I would like to see more peer accountability,” Maddox said.
“I know that we don’t have to be homogenous. I think that Berry’s diversity is a good thing. I think it’s one of the best things about Berry, and I think as we become more and more diverse, individual students should be aware of how their speech impacts their peers, impacts people on their team and impacts possibly their friends. Not necessarily ‘here’s what to think,’ but ‘here’s how to think.’ And I think that role should be taken on by student leadership, whether you’re a captain, whether you’re a freshman, senior, anyone in between can be a leader in that regard.”
But even faced with this challenge, Maddox said she is optimistic.
“I’ve been very impressed by the outpouring of support from the Black Lives Matter movement on campus and I think that as I see my peers continue to be leaders in that regard, my peers can also be leaders advocating for LGBTQ+ students in the same way,” Maddox said.
The final student athlete to share her experience wished to maintain her anonymity. As a freshman, she said she was not yet confident enough in her teammates’ tolerance to come out to all of them, though she has told some of her closer friends on the team that she is bisexual.
“I feel like, especially since this is such a small school, I feel like it’s better to be safe than sorry,” she said. “I have heard some of the girls themselves say ‘I would be so uncomfortable if I knew somebody was [gay or bisexual],’ and we were all in the locker room. Some of the girls on the team after I hear them say something, I’m like ‘oh,’ and even some of my teammates are like ‘yeah, I wouldn’t say anything’ or ‘it would be better to be kept to yourself’ or stuff like that.”
On one occasion, she said that two of her teammates and herself were discussing a sportsperson who was in a homosexual relationship, but only one of the two knew of her own sexual orientation. And while she and that teammate were supportive of the sportsperson’s choice, their other teammate did not agree.
“Our teammate was like ‘That’s disgusting. I would be so uncomfortable if she was in the locker room with us. Like imagine if we had a teammate like that, watching you change every day or they fall in love with you or anything,’” she said. “Instantly it made me feel inside like ‘wow, I can’t even.’ Not that I express myself in a bisexual way, but I know that I can’t do that around her and talk about those things and stuff, and my other friend apologized to me.”
According to this student athlete, many players have the misconception that just because your teammate is attracted to your gender, they are going to be attracted to you, even though nobody would think to reason that way for any heterosexual interaction. She also said that this was not the first time she personally encountered hostility towards LGBTQ+ athletes being in a locker room.
“I’ve seen a situation where they’re like ‘What the hell, get out of here. Why are you changing here?’” she said. “To ever say that to someone, I can‘t imagine if anyone said that to me.”
The first step in changing these mentalities, according to this student athlete, is through education.
“I feel like some people just need to be educated or be able to have a conversation and see that there is nothing different about certain people,” she said. “It’s not like our thought processes are different; we’re all people in the same community all working together.”
Another important aspect, according to her, would be for teams to be more explicit about their tolerance towards sexual and gender diversity. She said that student athletes should not be made reluctant to express themselves during team bonding sessions out of the fear of being judged, and that responsibility for this lies with those in positions of authority who need to ensure they are creating a safe space.
“You can’t be like ‘anybody can join this team, but if you’re LGBTQ+, no,’” she said. “You should address that no matter what, we will love you, we are your team, we are recruiting you, we want you to be happy and so on and so forth.”
But before that can happen, she said people need to gain the fundamental understanding that LGBTQ+ student athletes exist and deserve equal treatment.
“It’s kind of like something that needs to be proven, like we are here and we’re like everybody else and we deserve the same amount of respect,” she said.