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Belmont Athletics bears failing grade in LGBTQ athlete equality

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

Just 15 out of 100.

That was Belmont’s 2021 score on the athletic equality index compiled by Athlete Ally, a nonprofit LGBTQ athlete advocacy group.

In its final year in the Ohio Valley Conference, Belmont currently holds the third-lowest AEI score in the conference. The average score for OVC members is 20.6, while the average score in the Missouri Valley Conference — which the Bruins will join in 2022 — is 38.8.

For queer-identifying athletes like ‘21 softball alumnus Georgia McKee, inclusivity in Belmont Athletics is something worth talking about.

“At Belmont Athletics, they are very loving and caring people. But with LGBTQ issues, it’s more ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” said McKee.

“I’ve had teammates that didn’t come out during my four years because they were afraid of how their teammates and coaches would respond, and that’s not a good environment at all,” she said.

In December 2010, the university appeared in national headlines when women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe left her position shortly after coming out as a lesbian.

McKee came out her senior year at Belmont, and while her teammates and coaches supported her, Belmont could work towards creating more recognition for LGBTQ athletes, she said.

“Athletes have a lot more to us than just our athletic identities. We come from different backgrounds, different races, different cultures and different religions,” McKee said.

“There’s so much more that makes us up, and I think it’s the athletic department’s job to help us recognize the other identities within us that aren’t just our athletic identity.”

Belmont scored a 5/25 on its nondiscrimination policies, 5/15 on sexual harassment policies and 5/10 on fan code of conduct — referring to policies that prohibit discriminatory behavior from fans. Athlete Ally evaluates college athletics programs by referring to student-athlete manuals and researching what kind of inclusivity policies a university endorses publicly.

In other categories such as LGBTQ educational resources, training and trans inclusion policies, Belmont scored a zero.

A vital step in the right direction would be for the university to host more LGBTQ speakers and require training for student-athletes and faculty in the beginning of each semester, McKee said.

LGBTQ awareness training would allow students to recognize issues they may not notice day to day, such as how to identify harassment.

“If you don’t know the signs of what homophobia or transphobia is, then it is going to persist and there is going to be an underlying root that exists that no one actually addresses,” she said.

McKee was one of several speakers in an LGBTQ panel discussion arranged by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee’s diversity, equity and exclusivity council. University Ministries’ Heather Daugherty and Bridge Builders’ Vic Anderson were also part of the conversation about recognizing microaggressions and being an ally to LGBTQ peers.

As one of the first LGBTQ-focused events organized by and for Belmont Athletics, it was a big step, she said.

Belmont Athletics provided a statement on Athlete Ally’s index which reads as follows in full:

“Our Athletics department strives to build a community where all student-athletes can be their authentic selves and feel respected, cared for and safe, including our LGBTQI+ students. We seek to honor every individual as made in the image of God, and our entire staff as well as the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) are here to support all students alongside the robust resources offered by the University at large. Honestly, it’s difficult to respond to these scores as we don’t fully understand the scoring system or the basis of the scores given, but we do not believe Belmont’s score accurately represents the LGBTQI student athlete’s experience at Belmont.”

From McKee’s perspective, there is still work to be done, she said.

“I believe we have some pretty good non-discrimination policies,” she said. “But when it comes to trainings, advocacy and just moments of recognition are absent in the athletic department, and I would even say at Belmont as a greater university.”

More information about Athlete Ally’s AEI and scoring metrics can be found here.


PHOTO: Belmont Vision Multimedia / Jessica Mattsson and Anna Jackson

This article was written by A.J. Wuest.

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