While Penn is one of the most gay-friendly universities in the country, the athletic community here is arguably lagging behind.
The Lambda Alliance — Penn’s umbrella organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students — is hoping to change this by collaborating with Penn Athletics to develop a diversity training program for team captains, according to Lambda Chairman and Wharton and Engineering junior Tyler Ernst.
In the coming weeks, Lambda will be issuing an electronic survey to all student athletes to gauge their attitudes toward LGBT issues. The confidential survey, which will include questions about sexual orientation, will form the basis of the training program for captains to be implemented in spring 2011 at the earliest.
In addition to this, coaches will be required to read the University’s zero-tolerance discrimination policy at the beginning of each season.
“Our goal is to bring the athletic arena up to par with the rest of Penn,” Ernst said.
Currently, LGBT students are “tolerated” by the athletic community, but don’t always feel accepted, according to College junior Corinne Rich, current track and field team member and president of Penn Athletes and Allies Tackling Homophobia.
Rich added that although the statement is unlikely to “radically change” students’ perspectives toward LGBT issues, it is a meaningful gesture toward LGBT athletes and “sets an atmosphere for the team.”
According to LGBT Center Director Bob Schoenberg, the athletic community at Penn could benefit from education to help members understand the particular issues and concerns of LGBT athletes.
“Training for administrators, coaches and captains could go a long way toward addressing the kind of discomfort and discrimination that LGBT athletes have been experiencing at Penn,” Schoenberg wrote in an e-mail.
According to Penn Athletics Senior Associate directors Mary DiStanislao and Alanna Shanahan, there is currently a diversity training program for coaches which tackles LGBT issues.
“We feel that peer-to-peer training is good for our students, so we are supporting collaboration between [the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee] and PATH,” they wrote in an e-mail.
“The athletic community is lagging behind the rest of the Penn community,” said College sophomore Jason Magnes, a member of PATH. He plays varsity tennis and also purports to be the only openly gay male athlete at Penn.
Magnes said he didn’t come out to his team until the second semester of freshman year because he was still working on becoming comfortable with his sexuality. He eventually came out on Facebook and found the experience “very liberating.”
“My captain started taking the lead and gradually talking about it,” he said, adding that joking with his teammates about his sexuality made him “a lot more comfortable.”
Beyond the locker rooms and playing fields, another concern that the LGBT community has developed in recent years is the broadcast of Penn football games on conservative Christian-based radio stations.
“A student monitored these stations and discovered that they carried programming and ads, at times other than during the football broadcasts, which seemed hostile to the LGBT community,” Schoenberg wrote, adding that the LGBT community “would prefer that Penn not do business with companies known to sanction anti-gay programming.”
However, according to DiStanislao, “our options are limited.” The station that Schoenberg mentioned is WFIL, a “sister station” that Penn’s football broadcast is bumped to whenever there is a conflict with the Penn State football matches.
“We already have limits in place for what ad content can and cannot air during our broadcasts,” DiStanislao wrote. “If we felt there was ad content that made members of the Penn community uncomfortable, we would address it.”
Oct. 19, 4:36 p.m. — This article has been corrected to reflect that Jason Magnes is a sophomore, not a senior.
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