Thursday, March 07, 2013

NCAA Releases Comprehensive Best Practices for Inclusion of LGBTQ Athletes and Staff

As someone who studies discrimination in athletics from a legal perspective, I am often confronted by the limits of law to solve the problem.  Title IX is forty years old, and examples of sex discrimination persist.  States, cities, and institutions have law and policy protecting against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but many athletes and coaches still experience pressure to stay in the closet. The explanation is frustrating in its complexity -- the problem is not law, but culture.  All the law and policy on the books can't change the climate of a workplace, classroom, locker room, or other contexts in which a climate of hostility or fear suppresses individuals' abilities to freely be themselves.  How, then, can you change the culture? 

Enter Champions of Respect, the 82-page report (available here) released by the NCAA last week.  Here is a guidebook for changing the culture.  Authors Pat Griffin and Hudson Taylor have provided a thorough and comprehensive set of best practices to support inclusion, fairness, and respect for LGBTQ athletes and staff.  What makes this report particularly remarkable is its ability to move past broad aspirational statements about the importance of inclusion and respect, into the highly specific, day-to-day practices that actually cultivate a climate in which everyone feels safe, supported and respected.  For example, the report has advice for addressing intra-team dating, conveying neutrality in media and recruiting materials, responding when a student-athlete comes out, and dealing with questions from parents of recruits. The report talks about how coaches and administrators should frame and bring up discussions about team and department policies and expectations around such things as using inclusive language. It suggests, and explains how, an athletic department can assess its own climate and address its findings, and well as partner with and avail itself of other campus organizations and resources that support LGBTQ students. It provides advice to coaches considering whether or not to come out to their department and to their teams. The report provides useful and effective strategies for simultaneously supporting LGBTQ individuals as well as those with religious viewpoints that are not personally supportive of homosexuality.  It addresses and advises sensitivity around issues at the intersection of LGBTQ identity and race and class. In this report, the "T" in LGBT is not just along for the ride, as the authors provide specific recommendations relating from everything to avoiding assumptions about individuals' gender conformity, to developing policies of transgender inclusion, to using appropriate and respectful language when referring to the player by name and pronoun.  Of particular interest to me, the report even contains a section on legal resources, including a description of how Title IX has been used to challenge discrimination and harassment against LGBTQ students, and a list of various state and local laws that provide additional leverage to the cause of creating inclusive climates.

In sum, this resource, with its clear solutions for addressing a complex problem, and bearing the imprimatur of the NCAA, has real potential to create actual and meaningful change for athletes, teams, departments, institutions, conferences, and the culture of sport more generally. I am excited for this possibility.

Cross-posted at LGBT Issues in Sport Blog.