Fighting sports homophobia

Meet Hudson Taylor, a straight ally combating bigotry among athletes

(Brian Harkin, Special to…)
June 16, 2011|By Lem Satterfield | Special to b

Some might consider former University of Maryland wrestler Hudson Taylor brave for choosing the sort of activism he has elected to champion. 

But don’t tell Taylor that he’s “manning up,” because that’s the type of language that has defined “masculine gender scripts” and prevented closeted athletes from admitting publicly that they are gay, according to Taylor.

As the founder of the not-for-profit organization Athlete Ally, Taylor travels around the country speaking out in defense of the rights of bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgendered people to be exactly who they are wherever they are. 

“I think that I can have a huge impact,” said the 24-year-old Taylor, who will marry his fiancee, Lia Alexandra Mandagli, on Sept. 24. 

“It doesn’t have to be marching in parades or it doesn’t have to be a huge change in your life in order to be an ally,” he said. “It’s actually taking simple, small steps that I think will go a long way toward changing the culture of sports.”

As a high school wrestler, Taylor attended the prestigious Blair Academy, in Blairstown, N.J., where he started as a 152-pound sophomore, a 171-pound junior and a 189-pound senior, winning National Preps crowns each of those seasons. 

A three-time wrestling All-American in college, Taylor placed third twice and fourth once in the NCAA tournament, holds Maryland’s career record with 165 victories and ranks fifth on the Terps’ all-time career pins list with 87.

Taylor also earned academic All-American honors before graduating from Maryland with an interactive performing arts degree in the spring of 2010. 

“Obviously, my awareness started to become raised as a theater major, seeing some of my friends and peers come out, and then witnessing by contrast the homophobic language in the locker room,” said Taylor, who is now a volunteer assistant coach at Columbia University. 

“It was the contrast of the two environments,” he said. “That made me aware. Once you look at the two next to each other, it becomes clear how hurtful and harmful any type of derogatory language can be and is.”

Taylor spoke more about his cause during this Q&A with b

What are your earliest memories developing an acceptance and awareness of gays rights?

I would say that until I got to college, I really wasn’t aware of the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered] community and how my words and my actions affected them. 

What I was aware of was how sports shaped my identity, both as a straight man and how it shaped my understanding of masculinity. 

I think that because of athletics and because I grew up as a young man in sports, the homophobia that I witnessed was, in a way, sexism. As a straight man, you can act, dress and look a certain way. 

Homophobia and homophobic language was really a tool. I mean, you can learn as a little kid that calling somebody gay and using derogatory language like that was a tool to assert that I was straight. 

So, I didn’t have any outwardly gay friends in high school or when I was younger. I didn’t know anybody who was really openly gay back then. 

But what I did know was that in order to be a successful athlete, I was told and taught — maybe not explicitly — but that in order to be a successful athlete, I had to be a straight, masculine man. 

Was there a moment or an incident in college that firmly transitioned you into this type of activism?

I think that the transition was a lot slower than a lot of people think. Everybody always asks me “What was the light switch?” They think that there was this one incident where I was like, “That’s it. Enough is enough.”

But I think that before I could call myself an ally, I had to determine two things. The first was whether I could  internally become conscious of my own words and make it a very serious effort not to use any type of derogatory or demeaning language.

Second, why should I speak out when I hear other people using that type of language and do not speak up about it? 

What are some of the worst homophobic actions that you have seen?

What I’ve witnessed the most in sports is not necessarily targeted language toward a specific person, but I have seen language targeted toward a specific idea about masculinity.

So if an athlete doesn’t do something that the rest of my teammates perceive as being masculine, the language that stems from that was either homophobic or sexist. 

You know, “You throw like a girl” or “Don’t be a fag” or  “Man up.” These types of comments are defining masculine gender scripts. And what it does is it keeps closeted athletes in the closet. 

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