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Pro soccer player Joanna Lohman gave a speech on behalf of GO Athletes about being out in the athletic world. Credit: Samarth Shrivastava , Samarth Shrivastava

For this year’s National Coming Out Day, gay and straight allies wore their jerseys with pride.

Last night, GO! Athletes featured headline speaker Joanna Lohman at their re-launch event in Bodek Lounge. Lohman is an openly gay professional women’s soccer player for D.C. United. The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of homophobia and discrimination in sports.

GO! Athletes is the first national network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allied college students, coaches and former student-athletes. The organization was founded in 2008 under the name “Our Group Athletes.” Since then, LGBTQA representatives have traveled around the country to raise awareness of this unique network.

In the past few months, however, Our Group Athletes underwent a transformation, consisting of a new name, website and advisory board. Anna Aagenes, 2010 College graduate and executive director of the newly minted GO! Athletes, said the change reflected the new mentality of the LGBTQA sports movement.

“This is the time for the next generation of out athletes and allies. Coaches, athletes, fans and allies alike are ready,” she said.

Aagenes initiated contact with Lohman in June after reading an article about the soccer star in a magazine. Lohman said she was “flattered” by the invitation and agreed to come and speak about her experiences as an out professional athlete.

Go! Athletes envisioned the event as the first of many awareness-building initiatives across the nation.

During her speech, Lohman spoke about her philanthropic work abroad. She uses soccer as a vehicle to encourage women to embrace themselves despite opposition from their own strict cultures. In her travels, she often found herself scrutinized for her short hair and sexual preference.

“What is it like to live every day as a gay woman around the world? It’s hard. It’s complex. It’s draining. It’s uncomfortable,” she said. “We must sit and wonder, why do people even care? Why does such a private issue need to be a public thing?”

Lohman’s speech attracted visitors from all over Philadelphia and beyond. Athletes, coaches and students alike filled the seats in Bodek Lounge. About 40 schools were invited to participate in the event — seeing a Columbia University sweatshirt or a hat emblazoned with the Rutgers University logo was not uncommon.

Tom Ensminger, a Philadelphia resident, was among those in the crowd. As a former closeted football player for Tufts University, Ensminger could relate to Lohman’s message.

“I knew I was gay [in college], but I kept it to myself,” he said. “It’s my history and what I chose at the time. But now it’s great to see all the change that’s happening.”

Ensminger currently plays in a sports league of both gay and straight athletes.

“When you play together, you kind of forget who’s who and what’s what. And then you realize, why isn’t this happening at colleges and high schools?” he added.

Sean Smith, who serves on the Board of Directors for GO! Athletes, said the organization hopes to rectify such issues by providing support for the LGBTQA athletic community.

“If you need to start a conversation with your athletic department or sports team, then we can help you do that,” Smith said. “We just want to be the mentors to help get the conversation started.”

Before receiving a raucous round of applause, Lohman summed up the theme of the evening in her closing remarks.

“If we live in constant fear of what makes us different,” she said, “we’ll never embrace the power that we each possess.”

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