Last year Hudson Taylor wore a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his wrestling headgear during college matches to show solidarity with the LGBT community. This single act drew media attention around the country and prompted thousands of inspiring, personal messages that encouraged him to create an organization called Athlete Ally. Now a Division I college wrestling coach at Columbia University in NYC, Taylor spoke with us about his organization, and we found it fitting to include him in this year’s Leading Men issue—because even if he doesn’t play for our team, he’s on our side and he’s a leading man in our eyes.
What gave you the inspiration to create athlete ally? For quite a long time, I was not an advocate and not involved. I sat back as teammates and friends used derogatory language about homosexuals. When I was a student at the University of Maryland, I got involved in theater, and there were days where friends and classmates would literally stand up and announce to the class that they were gay. It was always received with applause and celebration. Those moments really affected me. Yet, very often, on those same days I would go to the locker room to get ready for practice, and I would hear my teammates use demeaning language against gay people. I was struck by the contrast of the two worlds. This really made me want to do something about it.
Tell us about the organization. Athlete Ally is a not-for-profit organization that I created to encourage, educate and empower people in the sports community to speak out against homophobia. People are encouraged to sign our Athlete Ally Pledge, and to date, more than 4,000 people have taken that pledge.
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I pledge to lead my athletic community to respect and welcome all persons, regardless of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Beginning right now, I will do my part to promote the best of athletics by making all players feel respected on and off the field.
How do you get your message across in what most would consider a predominantly homophobic environment like the locker room? I think we can build bridges when we make it about respect. As captain of my team, I realized that the team that was going to achieve victory was going to be the team that was the most united, and that even the smallest amount of homophobia in some way divides us, and that when we diminish others, we diminish ourselves. Carrying this message of respecting others is about all of us moving forward together, and it means that we are going to be mindful of how we speak to each other and how we speak about other people. It has nothing to do with political persuasion or what god you pray to. It’s really just about respect.
Were you worried about any backlash from your team or from the media? Yes and no. In my eyes…it’s really easy to be an ally. You don’t have to do a lot. You just have to be vocal about your beliefs. What is the alternative? Speaking out as an ally will always do more good for others than it could ever do harm to me. For every nasty e-mail that I get from someone who does not agree with what I am doing, I get several more from those who thank me for what I am doing.
What’s next for you, Hudson Taylor? Well, I postponed law school for a year to continue my efforts with Athlete Ally. I feel like I have to take this forward, I have a lot more to do here.
Support Taylor’s organization and LGBT athletes nationwide by signing the pledge at athleteally.org