The End of 'It Takes a Team': Project That Challenged Homophobia in Sports is Cut

Parinya CharoenpholThe sad news came down just a few weeks ago: It Takes a Team, the pioneering project of the Women's Sports Foundation dedicated to challenging homophobia in sports, has been canceled due to budget cuts.

An educational program founded in 1996, It Takes a Team was based on four powerful facts:

  • Many girls don't play sports because they are afraid someone will call them a lesbian or they are afraid one of their teammates or a coach might be a lesbian
  • Transgender athletes were formerly excluded from sports by sex verification policies
  • Lesbian and bisexual women in sport are discriminated against based on stereotypes and homophobia
  • Gay boys and men in sport keep their identities secret out of fear of harassment from teammates and coaches

Pat Griffin, director of It Takes a Team and author of Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sport, eulogized the project on her blog (which she will continue to maintain, and which remains a positive source of news of women athletes):

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I have directed ITAT for five years and worked closely with it for three years before that. During that time, we have developed the best set of up-to-date online resources for addressing LGBT issues in high school and college athletics. It Takes A Team also developed collaborative relationships with 18 national education, advocacy and athletic organizations and produced a successful monthly eletter with over 3000 subscribers. We've worked with hundreds of coaches, student-athletes and athletic administrators across the U.S. to assist them in making sport teams safe and respectful for all athletes regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In the process we've distributed hundreds of our DVDs, posters, safe zone stickers and other educational materials to schools and individuals. I'm proud of what we have accomplished with minimal resources. The resources we have developed will still be available on the Women's Sports Foundation web site.

Carol Blazejowski

I want to thank everyone who has supported ITAT and worked with me to get ITAT resources into the hands of people who can make a difference in schools. I especially want to recognize the close and successful collaborations ITAT has enjoyed with the National Center for Lesbian Rights Sports Project and its director, Helen Carroll. Helen and I refer to ourselves as the Frick and Frack of homophobia in sport and often have joked that people in athletics could see me for education or see Helen for litigation. We love being a 1-2 punch against discrimination and ignorance in sport.

As I look to what's next for me I can promise that I plan to stay in the game. That is, I have lots of energy and commitment to continuing my work on LGBT issues in sport. It Takes A Team will end, but my work on LGBT issues in sport will continue. I just need to identify what that work will look like in the future. For sure I plan to continue blogging so that will go on uninterrupted. I'll have to keep you posted on the rest. ...

The outstanding resources put together by It Takes a Team remain accessible, including information for coaches, athletes, parents, and administrators on dealing with LGBT issues in athletics; legal information; discussion guides and teaching tools; stickers and posters; and more.

Taking on homophobia in sports is a formidable fight--and not just in the United States, as we see from the current fervant conversation in Europe about who is to blame for the toxic environment for pro soccer players who are gay. There are no out players in the premeireship soccer league; the only one who has ever come out, Justin Fashanu, was severely bullied and later committed suicide. It is no surprise, then, that top players remain closeted.

Michelle Van GorpAs Title IX Blog puts it, It Takes a Team's demise "is a huge loss and certainly leaves a gap in the education of athletes and those involved in athletics around issues of sexuality and gender identity."

Whatever form Griffin's advocacy takes, I'm in full support of her. Thankfully, she's not in this all on her own; there are several other powerful advocates against homophobia in sports--and they deserve our heightened backing now, lest we lose them too.

Among the individuals, organizations, and projects who are fighting the good fight, here's a very small sampling:

And of course: feminist sports fans like you and me.

About the Images:

1. Parinya Kiatbusaba, a trans kickboxer from Thailand, is a Muay Thai boxing champion.

2. Martina Navratilova, one of the best tennis players of the twentieth century, came out as a lesbian in 1981 - during the height of her career. 

3. Carol Blazejowski, who once shined on the basketball court, is now the out general manager of the New York Liberty in the WNBA.

4. Michelle Van Gorp, who played center for the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA, was one of the few active athletes in any sport who was out. She's also the second player to dunk in the WNBA (Lisa Leslie was first). She's now the assistant women's basketball coach at Colgate University.

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