Athletics are often the first step into youth socialization, but for queer youth, they can instead be scary and triggering. Micah Porter wants to change that.
Porter is an assistant principal at Alameda International working on creating a safer space for LGBTQ athletes in schools. His advocacy reaches coaches and administrators to further enhance the security of our youth. Porter has extensive experience as an educator, from positions as a coach to an assistant principal. He received a scholarship to run track in high school and even dove into other activities, but Porter’s passion for sports and inclusion comes from personal experience and did not end there.
“Adults need a lot of education in the athletic world about locker room talk and creating very explicit team policies, school-wide policies about inclusion and language,” he said. “Everything from using dehumanizing terms in the locker room toward women, gay and lesbian athletes, to language the fans may use in the stands.”
It is no surprise sports provide fertile ground for homophobia to flourish. Out On The Fields surveyed 9,500 people about their experiences in sports tied to homophobia. Seventy-eight percent believed team sports for our youth are not safe for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. This belief bleeds into the security of the students. Many athletes remain in the closet due to the fear of discrimination from their peers and coaches.
Language also plays a huge part in the unsettling atmosphere surrounding sports. Homophobic slurs are often used. Eighty-nine percent of gay men have heard terms such as “f*ggot” being used in the world of athletics. These terms are often used to degrade someone’s performance by comparing it to words with softer connotations rather than ones that possess “strength.”
These negative connotations related to the LGBTQ community aren’t always that aggressive, however. Casual homophobia isn’t uncommon among our youth, so establishing zero tolerance for this kind of language can minimize negative signals toward other students.
Trying to combat the negative stigmas associated with sports is often done by educating people on the subject matter. Language, in terms of the LGBTQ community, has changed rapidly, and many people in the educational realm lack the resources to better understand what is going on in the community.
Another major way to combat these stigmas is to make it clear that athletic students don’t have to just be athletes to fit in or be cool.
“I was a college track athlete. I did everything from football, basketball, wrestling, cross country, baseball in high school. I also was in the band, and I love art, and I love to cook, things that might be outside of that whole jock environment. Young people should be able to express themselves and be who they are and also in sports, and not feel like they have to live up to some sort of traditional jock mentality to play,” he said.
Porter has worked with Nike’s BETRUE Campaign and the You Can Play Project supporting this message.
Nike’s campaign began in 2012 and continued through 2019. The purpose of BETRUE was to support organizations beneficial to the LGBTQ community. You Can Play works on altering locker room culture in order to create a welcoming space for students regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation.
Gender identity is scrutinized in the world of athletics. More than half of the total participants in the Out In The Fields survey stated they believed queer athletes are not accepted. Recently, in Connecticut, two transgender track athletes fought against a policy that would ban them from playing on the team with which they identify.
Clearly, queer inclusion among school athletics, or lack thereof, is a situation that needs addressing.
“There’s been a lot of work done around trans-inclusion and the importance of supporting our trans students, and what that looks like, and how that can be best implemented,” Porter added. “Colorado High School Activities Association has also been a national leader in terms of creating trans policies for athletes and allowing students to participate in the gender in which they identify. It has a very positive impact.”
Porter doesn’t look like your typical sports enthusiast. He openly wears pins and has decor in his office to show that queer visibility is important.
“The feedback that I get from students who are aware of my sexual orientation and how much it means to them to know that the adults in their lives are supportive of who they are, understand the importance of pronoun use, and how impactful language can be for a young person who is navigating gender identity or sexual orientation, is huge,” he said.
Porter is also aware of the positive outcomes that athletics can bring. One of the aspects of athleticism that can carry a huge lesson is the concept of “positive results of failure.” By becoming aware of how our mishaps can shape us, failure can seem like less of a negative.
“There’s no guarantees. Injury and sickness can create disappointment and what we could deem as a failure, but those are the times where I know I grew the most as a person.”
We could all benefit from the lessons sports can teach, even if we are never going to be professional athletes. The first step to making athletics inclusive for all is opening up the conversation and providing support and education.
*The Colorado High School Activities Association approved a summit next fall to support increased inclusion in athletics. Learn more, here!