College swimmer Lauren Neidigh, who plays for the University of Arizona, recently wrote an op-ed in which she asks other LGBT athletes to come out of the closet, despite social and cultural pressures. In the piece, published on OutSports, Neidigh recalls being alone in her bedroom after being invited out to a party by her friends, but having declined the invitation because of her fear that her crush (a woman) might be there. She describes feeling hopeless and alone, thinking that there was something wrong with her.
Neidigh emphasizes the importance of other LGBT athletes as significant in having given her the courage to come out herself; "Since more athletes have come out and shared their journeys publicly, I was able to do the same. I felt motivated to find the same happiness for myself that these other athletes had found since coming out." Sadly, because of cultural stigma and homophobia, most LGBT athletes probably remain in the closet, as 4.6 percent of the United States population identifies as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, while only 1 percent of athletes who competed in the 2012 Olympic games were openly out. The lack of acceptability within the athletic world can cause athletes like Neidigh to be afraid of the consequences they may face in their sport if they come out. Unless this stigma is broken, the silence is only going to continue.
Luckily, many other LGBT athletes have been stepping up to the plate (OK, pun was definitely intended) and coming out of the closet, despite the discrimination they may face as a result. In the last few year alone athletes Derrick Gordon, a UMASS basketball player, Brittney Griner, a WNBA star, Jason Collins, an NBA professional, and Jessica Aguilar, an MMA fighter, have all come out (among many others). It seems that the more that athletes come out, the stronger the momentum grows for other LGBT athletes to do the same. This is why athletes like Neidigh are critical to expanding LGBT rights in athletics, as her courage will surely inspire many others to come out.
As Lauren Neidigh herself says, we need more athletes like those mentioned to be willing to come out. "You may not have realized it yet, but we need your help. Each one of us, even those who haven't come out yet, is a unique piece of the LGBT sports movement. Being in the closet is like benching your best self. We need you first-string, because no one else can play your position."
"Being in the closet is like benching your best self. We need you first-string, because no one else can play your position."
Not only is she speaking out, but she's also become a bonafide LGBT rights activist. She helped to create an awareness campaign this past summer along with Swimming World Magazine and SwimSwam news that featured teams from all levels, schools, and sizes holding up signs that said "No Hate," to symbolize their solidarity with LGBT athletes.
Clearly, Neidigh symbolizes both the progress we have made and the long road we still need to build, in order to make athletics a safe space for LGBT folk.
Image: Lauren Neidigh/Instagram (3), Getty Images (1)