LGBTQ2 athletes often face barriers when competing in sports, but a campus program at the University of Saskatchewan hopes to change that.
Athlete Allies is a program that seeks to promote a more positive and inclusive atmosphere for LGBTQ2-identified athletes in sports. The program, started by U of S medical student Josh Butcher, seeks to do this by raising awareness about the barriers that keep LGBTQ2 athletes from participating or succeeding.
The program is similar to sports based gay-straight-alliance programs on college campuses in the United States. However, Athlete Allies is notable for being the first program of its kind at a Canadian university.
Butcher, in addition to being a medical student, has been a Huskies football player at the U of S for the past five years. Butcher has advocated for LGBTQ2 issues in sports well before founding Athlete Allies, having attended the Breaking the Silence conference and helping to develop the U of S Huskies You Can Play video campaign, both of which focus on LGBTQ2 issues in sport.
Athlete Allies is dedicated to raising awareness about the different issues faced by athletes across the spectrums of gender and sexuality.
“Even within the LGBTQ2 community, and the whole spectrum really, different people are going to face different problems. For example, a gay athlete on a football team is going to face different problems than a transgender athlete trying to work their way into a sport,” Butcher said.
With the program, Butcher hopes to implement sensitivity training for athletes on campus by planning information sessions designed to encourage an inclusive team culture.
“At the beginning of each season, we want to implement a half-hour session for each team on why certain language is hurtful and the use of proper language in locker rooms,” Butcher said.
With these talks, Butcher also hopes to focus on giving athletes the tools they need to feel empowered to stand up to their peers.
“We want to give our athletes ways that they can be accountable for their teammates’ words and actions so they can speak up if they’re doing something wrong,” Butcher said. “Just like how you’d speak up to one of your teammates when they’re not going to the gym and they’re not getting their lifts in. If you hear a guy saying something he shouldn’t be saying, speak up and tell him.”
The program hopes to facilitate similar talks for high school athletes as well. For Butcher, spreading the Athlete Allies message to younger players is an important part of fighting homophobia and transphobia.
“I’d like to get some of our athletes potentially going out to high schools and speaking to kids and showing them why this is the right thing to do, hopefully starting to kind of nip this problem at its roots.” Butcher said.
The Athlete Allies program only succeeds if it has support from the players. Butcher has worked to get players involved in the program with the goal of creating change from the grassroots.
“I tried to look for athletes whose teammates respected them, whose teammates looked up to them and whose teammates would listen to them,” Butcher said. “You start to work your way down and infiltrate the system from the highest age level down.”
Athlete Allies hopes to expand its reach to universities across the country in the near future. Butcher has reached out to universities that participated in the You Can Play video campaign, with the goal of creating new chapters across the country.
Butcher hopes to continue recruiting new members and encouraging athletes to be open to the message of the program.
“For any athlete, I would say to be open to the idea of Athlete Allies and just know that the end goal is to make your team more competitive and more successful by creating better chemistry within your team and in your locker room.”
Photo: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor