Speakers shine light on ‘out’ athletes

Hudson Taylor and Jeff Sheng challenged students, community members and athletes alike to overcome homophobia in athletics. The ECCE speaker event highlighted the struggles of athletes and allies speaking up for LGBTQA community members.

Lauren-Fearless-Jeff-ShengHudson, NCAA All American Wrestler and LGBTQ ally, presented Tuesday night alongside “Fearless Project” photographer Jeff Sheng, which showcases ‘out’ athletes.

Athletic Director Kim Pate and LGBTQA Director Kerry Poynter opened the event. Pate said, “Inclusion of differences creates higher performance for teams.”

Hudson began the presentation, sharing his journey of becoming an ‘out loud ally’ for the LGBTQA community. He explained that two of his greatest obstacles with acceptance were thinking beyond stereotypes of athletes and the struggle to detach himself from his strict religious roots.

During his speech, Hudson explained how he became an object of influence, wearing an LGBTQ sticker on his helmet at wrestling conferences as the first step. He discussed how within modern culture, embracing adversity is more so a tool than a hindrance, offering hope for young ‘closeted’ boys and girls.

From his experiences, Hudson founded a non-profit organization, Athlete Ally, which works to reach out to national sports teams requesting that they be in support of the LGBTQ community.

Hudson concluded with a suggestion to influence social change, “go toward the fear.” Hudson elaborated saying, “There is power in collective action, speaking out on any cause you care about requires courage. Sportsmanship is synonymous with allyship.”

Matt-football-Fearless-Jeff-ShengSheng took the stage following Hudson. He opened exposing his feeling of vulnerability on stage being in a similar college environment where he spent years of his life closeted by fear. Sheng came from a suburban, middle class, Southern California lifestyle where he played high school tennis with an openly gay teammate. He revealed stories of having taken part in the bullying of that teammate. He became emotional and made clear his embarrassment on being a participant.

After high school, Sheng was accepted into Harvard University, where he made the decision not to play tennis. He said, “There was just too much pressure to closet myself especially in an athletic environment.”

He instead found himself taking on photography, where he came out himself.  After coming out to his college roommates, Sheng eventually exposed his true identity to his family.

Sheng’s personal devotion to photography translated into the idea of photographing “out” athletes at high school and collegiate levels. The project accumulated over the past 10 years, doubling the amount of student involvement within the past year.

Sheng captures his subjects one-on-one during workouts and asks them to stare right into the camera. He explained how this metaphor encompasses loneliness and the challenge of facing society. “You all have the right to be who you are,” he said.

Katie Devlin, freshman, said, “People have to stop automatically grouping appearance and look past stereotypes involved in the LGBTQ culture. We all need to be more understanding of one another.”