Playing for change: Studner works for equality in collegiate athletics

Playing+for+change%3A+Studner+works+for+equality+in+collegiate+athletics

Katelyn Arnold

Openly gay athlete Gavin Studner has worked hard to change the climate toward LGBTQ athletes at Lafayette, but he still sometimes faces discrimination when playing against other teams.

During two home tennis matches this spring one week apart, against St. Peter’s and against Wagner, Studner said he received disrespectful comments from members of the opposing team in relation to his sexual orientation.

“I felt myself in the St. Peter’s match, after those comments were made, I just went into a dull state,” Studner said. “It kind of just put me in this state of numbness.”

After these experiences, Studner said he reached out the Lafayette athletic department who then contacted the athletic departments of the opposing schools to address the situation. Since, Studner said the athletic departments from the opposing schools have facilitated conversations addressing the issue of respect regardless of sexual orientation and have issued repercussions for the athletes involved.

“The Lafayette athletic department was very diligent and took this matter very seriously,” Studner added.

The efforts of Studner and the Athlete Ally program, which serves to promote a more accepting athletic community, at Lafayette College has had an impact on the Lafayette athletics department. This past month, the women’s soccer team took a stand to be an ally on their social media.

Studner made his public debut as an openly gay athlete at Lafayette last year.

Following Michael Sam’s announcement in which he came out as the first openly gay athlete in the NFL in 2013, The Lafayette published an article asking Lafayette athletes and coaches if they felt an openly gay athlete would feel comfortable at the college. At the end of an article, there was an editor’s note asking for Letters to the Editor if any one had anything to add to the discussion.

The following week, The Lafayette interviewed Studner, a sophomore at the time. He came out 15 months before the article was published and to his teammates two months after that.

That was just the beginning for Studner, now a senior in his final season of competition at Lafayette. Since coming out, Studner has assisted the Lafayette athletic department in welcoming Hudson Taylor, the founder of Athlete Ally, to speak at Lafayette. Last semester, Taylor discussed the issue of equality in sports and, in specific, the issues of homophobia and transphobia.

Since Taylor’s visit, Studner has been hard at work implementing the Athlete Ally ideals at Lafayette. Specifically, Studner has made an effort to make sexuality less of a taboo topic in athletics. This includes monitoring the type of language being used and instilling respect between athletes, regardless of sexual orientation.

The senior first reached out to the Lafayette athletic department, the head coaches and captains of each team to encourage teams to have a conversation in general addressing sexuality and establishing an overall understanding of respect.

Studner specifically noted the support and assistance given to him by the athletic department.

“The athletic department has been 110 percent on board,” he said. “I can’t thank Bruce McCutcheon enough for his support.”

The program has been well-received by the athletes that have participated.  

“We have seen a lot of positive and receptive reactions from the teams,’’ campus ambassador to the program senior Abbey Stefanides wrote in an email. ‘‘We had opportunities for student-athletes to sign the Athlete Ally Pledge at some of the basketball games, as well as a ‘homework’ assignment in SAAC [Student Athlete Advisory Committee], which encouraged each team to sit down and have a discussion about the LGBTQ community in athletics. From these two experiences we have received a lot of positive feedback from teams, and they seem excited to continue creating awareness for the Athlete Ally cause.’’
“My goal coming into school was to leave Lafayette in a better way than when I came in,” Studner said.