Former University of Maryland wrestler Hudson Taylor came to the University of Maine Monday to present a lecture to students, coaches and faculty, advocating an accepting environment for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. In the event was hosted by UMaine’s LGBT Services.
The three-time NCAA All-American collegiate wrestler gave his story about his road to becoming an athletic ally to the gay community and how student athletes can do the same.
Taylor started the non-profit organization Athlete Ally shortly after he graduated college. The organization advocates “Victory Through Unity” and serves as a “resource to encourage athletes, coaches, parents, fans and other members of the sports community to respect all individuals involved in sports,” according the organization’s website.
“I am very cognizant of the fact that some people may not agree with marriage equality and they may never will, so for me I try to keep the politics out of it,” Taylor said. “I try to keep your faith out of it and make the conversation really simple — this is about how we treat one another, it’s about respect.”
Taylor admits that it wasn’t until his college career that he realized he needed to do more than play a bystander role towards LGBT issues and their relationship with the athletic community. Growing up, he cited that certain circumstances prevented him from doing the right thing.
The first was his family, whose ancestors were Christian ministers who spread the word of the Bible to those who hadn’t yet accepted Christianity. The second was the wrestling climate and athletic culture he had always been a part of. According to Taylor, it is assumed that you have to be masculine in an athletic circle. Phrases like “that’s so gay” were thrown around like it meant nothing. He felt that it was not his place to speak out against such language.
“We all have an innate desire to fit in.… The easiest thing is to do nothing,” Taylor said.
The third obstacle was passing what Taylor called the awareness test. Taylor pointed out that the insular athletic community often feels they are not a part of the gay community.
“I never thought I knew someone who was gay,” Taylor said. “It’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for.”
When Taylor entered college as an All-Star wrestler and a theater student, everything changed. He recalls one very memorable moment in class when a male student who sat next to Taylor came into class and made a personal yet public step toward being truer to himself, coming out as a homosexual to the class. Going from this moving moment to his wrestling circle made him realize he needed to become aware.
During his senior year of college, Taylor decided it was time to speak out. He started his wrestling season with a Human Rights sticker on his helmet. Taylor claimed that wearing this sticker has changed his life more than anything else.
Taylor’s coach later approached him to do an interview with a newspaper about why he made this subtle yet powerful decision to wear the sticker while competing. Attached in the article Taylor included his email address, encouraging people to reach out to him for support. The feedback he received was bigger than he ever could have expected. His role as an open athletic ally of the LGBT community has only grown since then.
Taylor advocates that there are certain things we can all do to make an impact on the acceptance of LGBT issues. He encourages students, athletes and non-athletes alike, to use social media as a tool to show support.
“I think athletes, in particular, have the ability to change people’s opinions in a major way,” Taylor said. “If the college and professional athletes are saying it’s not cool to say ‘that’s so gay,’ I’m going to listen, and that’s going to change the way that I conduct myself.”