When Taylor Tvedt made the “no-brainer” decision to come out as a high school sophomore in the Twin Cities suburb of Apple Valley, the response was largely positive. Her “progressive” parents were supportive; her friends, and lacrosse and ice hockey teammates, were “awesome.”
Tvedt was relieved. She could be herself … even in the locker room, where she’d worried about what everyone might think.
The only ones who seemed to have an issue were parents of teammates. There was gossip in the stands. One mother did not want Tvedt driving her daughter to practice. Taylor’s mother fought those battles. By senior year, Tvedt says proudly, “No one messed with my mom.”
When Lehigh University recruited her for lacrosse, Tcedt was “pretty sure they knew” her sexual orientation. Visiting the Division I school, she asked about the gay scene. Her tour guide was surprised, but said, “I’m sure you’ll be happy here.”
In her first week as a Mountain Hawk, her coaches met separately with all the new players. They’d never had an openly gay athlete before. Their main concern, Tvedt says, was what they should be saying, and how to say it. Her sexuality was never an issue.
Though most of her teammates come from similar Northeastern U.S. backgrounds, Tvedt says they are accepting of each other’s “little differences.” The women are best friends. They live near each other, and share a tight team culture. “We’re all open-minded, and willing to have conversations about anything,” she notes. “Our coach is good at recognizing that we have personalities beyond our lacrosse skills.”
Tvedt says that while her sexuality “does not make me the athlete I am,” she also refuses to live a “don’t ask, don’t tell” life. The more people talk, the more they learn about her. And, just as crucially, the more other LGBT athletes will be empowered to come out themselves.
Lehigh had an Athlete Ally chapter. The organization works to end homophobia and transphobia in sports, and educates teams and coaches to stand up against anti-LGBT discrimination.
Last spring, the college’s director of athletic leadership development asked Tvedt to take on an Athlete Ally leadership role. Her goal is to provide awareness and engagement opportunities, and challenge people beyond her own team to have “important dialogues.”
This fall, Tvedt designed and distributed a culture survey to all Lehigh athletes. A sociology major, she knows the importance of data in making a case for change.
She received 410 responses — a very high, 60-percent response rate. Only 3 percent of those athletes identified themselves as “non-heterosexual.”
The surveys showed that male Lehigh athletes are much less likely than their female counterparts to take a “very” or “somewhat” accepting view of LGBT athletes. The open-ended questions elicited a few “jerk” responses from men, she adds.
Athlete Ally sponsored a “lunch and learn” session about homophobia. Thirty-four athletes came. All were women. Tvedt was disappointed. “I’ve got plenty of male athlete friends,” she notes.
At the meeting, she spoke about the importance of being an ally. So far, six teams have signed the Athlete Ally pledge.
Armed with data, she approached Lehigh administrators. She pointed out gaps in the schools written inclusion policies, especially compared with similar institutions. Their response — that it’s “just one of many issues” — surprised her. It also impelled her to keep pushing on.
As she works with Athlete Ally, Tvedt realizes that she wants to continue her efforts after graduation this spring. The connections she’s made — and her awareness of the power of allies — drive her forward.
“I want to leave Lehigh with a legacy,” she says. “And not only on the field. I want to build something that is lasting, and impactful.”
She’s already done that. In advance of National Coming Out Day last October, Lehigh’s sports communications office interviewed Taylor. The resulting story — focusing on her Athlete Ally efforts, but also highlighting her sexual orientation — was wide-ranging, positive and powerful. It included insights from teammate Lauren Beausoleil: “When individuals feel they cannot be themselves, they can start to doubt who they are and feel distant from others. Open communication and having teammates that are both accepting and approachable is one of the greatest things a program can provide.”
To Taylor’s surprise, the story was distributed widely. Thanks to Lehigh’s online presence, and social media, it went far beyond the Pennsylvania campus. It was even included in Lehigh’s football program. As a result, Tvedt has heard from LGBT athletes and allies all over the country.
Lehigh still has a way to go on LGBT issues. Every institution does. But, Tvedt says, “People need to see what’s going on here. We’re doing some good things.”
So is she.
— Dan Woog