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Michigan State Athletic Department Working To Increase Support For LGBTQ Student-Athletes

In light of Pride month, I reached out to MSU to talk about ongoing institutional support for a little discussed, but equally important, segment of student-athletes.

Michigan State v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

When it comes to June, many of us think of the month as the true arrival of summer. We begin to take our frequent trips up north to the cottages, afternoons are spent on the lake, and nights are spent around the campfire. However, one segment of the population thinks of June in another way: Pride month. In addition to the countless Pride celebrations that occur in June across numerous cities around the country (when there isn’t a pandemic that is), June 26 has an important meaning as it is the date which the Supreme Court has handed down precedent setting cases such as Lawrence v. Texas, U.S. v. Windsor, and Obergefell v. Hodges. In light of both the significance of June to the LGBT population, and given the ongoing national discussion right now about equality, I reached out to Michigan State’s Athletic Department to ask them about a group of student-athletes that are not typically talked about in the media: LGBTQ student-athletes.

While fellow SBNation site Outsports has featured former and current Spartans such as Eric Bach, Greg Nelson, Madison Hall, and Jacob Jean on their site to speak about their own experiences as LGBTQ individuals, I personally have not seen coverage in other media outlets about LGBTQ MSU athletes over the years. As anyone who is like me will tell you, visibility matters. If more attention is given to this topic, the easier it will be to find these important conversations and help spur other such discussions that continue to make a positive impact. With this in mind, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to add yet another discussion of LGBTQ student-athletes in sports to the national conversation and to the conversation around Michigan State. The following list of questions were sent to Michigan State’s Athletic Department asking about steps they’ve taken and policies they have implemented or plan to implement to support LGBTQ student-athletes that don the only colors to compete in the sports we all love.

A special thank you to Eric Lueshen who assisted me with putting together the questions to ask. Eric is the co-founder of LGBT SportSafe and spoke about his own experience as an openly gay kicker in college last month on my podcast I co-host: Of Bangarangs and Daggers. Not thanks to him, however, for the reliving of the 2003 Alamo Bowl game experience.

The Questions

MSU responded to the following questions I asked of them regarding institutional support for LGBTQ athletes.

  1. Does the Michigan State Athletic Department have a designated individual or committee responsible for the advocacy of its LGBTQ athletes, coaches, and support staff?
  2. Has the Michigan State Athletic Department undertaken a formal review of internal policies and procedures to ensure these include non-discriminatory provisions to explicitly protect and create an inclusive environment LGBTQ athletes, coaches, and support staff? If so, when was this review first initiated, and when was it most recently reviewed?
  3. What, if any, educational programming does MSU conduct for coaching staff, support personnel, and athletes on LGBTQ inclusion policies and nondiscrimination procedures? How frequently is this programming delivered for each group?
  4. What public education initiatives does the MSU Athletic Department undertake to encourage LGBTQ inclusion in sports, either in MSU sports, intramural athletics at MSU, or in the greater sports community of Mid-Michigan and the K-12 grade levels?
  5. What partnership opportunities has Michigan State entered into or explored with outside organizations? Has MSU reached out to the Big Ten Conference or other conference schools such as Nebraska and Northwestern who had all partnered with organizations such as LGBT SportSafe for possible recommendations?

Response from MSU Athletics

The athletic department provided the following answers to my questions:

In 2016, Michigan State athletics used Athlete Ally for staff, leadership group and student-athlete training.

Realizing the need for greater advocacy of its LGBTQ student-athletes, steps were taken in that direction during the last school year, including:

  • This semester, MSU athletics started our Green Bandana Project* as part of our mental health awareness campaign. On the resource card, student-athletes carry information on the MSU LGBT Resource Center and Trevor Lifeline, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people under 25.
  • Conversations with Athlete Ally resumed this spring.
  • Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the process was started for adding a LGBTQ group affiliated with the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC). While the move to remote learning caused delays, SAAC has scheduled meetings with the leadership of MSU’s LBGT Resource Center, in hopes of implementing a group by fall. In fact, there was a call this week between our new SAAC President and the LBGT Resource Center.

As it relates to staff, athletics staff members have gone through diversity training in past years. While the content of the programming varies, past topics have included nondiscrimination and inclusion policies and procedures. Athletics staff are expected to adhere to the same Anti-Discrimination policies that apply to the University at large. Like all university employees, athletics staff also complete required online RVSM training which includes a section on harassment. Beginning this fall, the university will also be requiring all employees, including athletics staff, to complete mandatory online DEI (Diversity Equity and Inclusion) training.

In early June, Michigan State Athletic Director Bill Beekman announced that he was moving forward with the hiring of a Chief Diversity Officer. Among the many responsibilities, this hire is sure to help benefit MSU Athletics in its celebration and support of our LGBTQ student-athletes and staff, including the implementation of a diversity plan and regular trainings. The University is also conducting a search for a Chief Diversity Officer that will be able to coordinate with the athletics CDO.

Athletic Director Bill Beekman

Additionally, MSU Athletic Director Bill Beekman offered the following statement:

As an athletic department we’ve identified a need to do a better job celebrating our LBGTQ student-athletes, staff and coaches. But beyond advocating for them, we need to ensure that we are providing a safe place where they can maximize their abilities, while at the same time feeling supported by our department. Steps have been taken to start providing additional resources for our student-athletes, including the implementation of a LGBTQ group through SAAC [Student-Athlete Advisory Committee] as well as increased communication with the MSU’s LBGT Resource Center.
The area that excites me as athletic director is the hiring of our Chief Diversity Officer. Once we are able to fill that spot we will become better as a department, increasing opportunities to celebrate all of our differences, while better providing an atmosphere and community where everyone can reach their full potential.

Thank you again to the Michigan State University Athletic Department and Athletic Director Bill Beekman for taking the time to address this topic. As for my fellow Spartan fans out there: Happy Pride and Go Green!