Hudson Taylor is not gay. Not that there’s anything wrong
Three years ago, when the University of Maryland wrestler
put a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his headgear, some people wondered about
Taylor didn’t care. He was more concerned about sending a
strong show of support to the gay community. For him, the medium – sports – was
an appropriate means for an important message.
Taylor admits he had "zero exposure" to gay people growing
up. "I started wrestling when I was 6," he recalls. "All my friends were other
wrestlers. I didn’t think the LGBT world pertained to me."
But in middle school he sang in a choir. At Blair Academy in
New Jersey he performed in musicals and plays. "No one was out when I was
there, but homophobic comments of my friends – and me – always got corrected,"
he says. He lived in two worlds – "jock and thespian" – and his horizons
The HRC sticker was his first act of public advocacy. It
attracted plenty of attention, and in February of his senior year the Outsports
website interviewed him. To Taylor’s surprise, 2,000 emails poured in. Many
came from closeted young athletes. "It was jaw-dropping," Taylor says. "About
half of them made me cry." For the first time, he realized the power of allies to
make a difference.
"If a college wrestler could get that response, imagine if a
football coach or athletic director spoke out," he says. "They could change the
Deferring law school, Taylor and his girlfriend Lia – "my
partner in everything," now his wife – began planning an organized called
Athlete Ally. Taylor accepted attorney Fred Raffetto’s offer of help, and asked
if he could do pro bono work. Hesitantly, Raffetto approached his firm, Ansell
Grimm & Aaron. They agreed (and Raffetto is now a partner there).
Taylor initially planned to create a place for allies to
sign a pledge, which would give LGBT athletes hope and encouragement. The
website does that, while also offering a place for allies to post personal
But Athlete Ally has evolved into something far different: a
resource to help allies speak out publicly, and encourage others to do the
Today there are several dozen college Athlete Ally
Ambassadors. They talk to teams and athletic departments at their universities,
asking them to sign the pledge. (It says: "I pledge to lead my athletic
community to respect and welcome all persons, regardless of their perceived or
actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Beginning
right now, I will do my part to promote the best of athletics by making all
players feel respected on and off the field.")
School newspapers, radio and TV stations and blogs cover
those pledge signings, creating a snowball effect for the cause.
"Lots of student-athletes want to take a stand," Taylor
says. "They just haven’t had the tools to do it before." So far, over 5,000
athletes and coaches have signed the Athlete Ally pledge.
One of the success stories is the University of Cincinnati,
where 10 teams signed the pledge. Suddenly on campus, the issue of LGBT
athletes was in the news.
Sometimes, Taylor notes, "we get pledges from schools we
hadn’t even reached out to. This is definitely something that people are
talking about now."
There has been "literally no pushback," Taylor says.
However, he admits, "most of the schools we’ve reached out to are in the
Northeast." In an effort to broaden Athlete Ally’s scope, he will head South –
to schools like Rhodes College in Memphis – this fall. He’s on the road often,
usually every other week.
He concentrates on colleges because, he says, those athletes
and coaches are more politically and socially aware than their high school
counterparts. It’s easier to be "active and aggressive" at the college level.
And, he explains, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education
Network (GLSEN) sponsors a "Changing the Game" project at the K-12 level. "Pat
Griffin and her group have done a fantastic job," he says.
In the coming year, Taylor hopes to encourage teams to wear
an ally symbol when they compete. The design is still in the works. He
envisions something instantly recognizable, like the pink ribbon that
symbolizes breast cancer awareness.
"I come at this conversation from a very safe place," Taylor
notes. "I’m part of the athletic culture. I said stupid things when I was
younger. By telling my story, I allow others to tell theirs."
It helps that he is still involved in sports. Taylor is an
assistant wrestling coach at Columbia University. He is once again living in
two worlds – this time, athletics and gay advocacy.
Thanks to Hudson Taylor and Athlete Ally, those two worlds
are no longer mutually exclusive.
Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, gay activist, and author of the "Jocks" series of books on gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com