As a member of the nation's top-ranked high school wrestling team, Hudson Taylor was subjected to homophobic taunts as a teen.
As a member of the nation's top-ranked high school wrestling team, Hudson Taylor was subjected to homophobic taunts as a teen. When he would miss practice to participate in theater at Blair Academy in New Jersey, he would get asked if he was training for the "gay Olympics." ("The f-word was thrown around very nonchalantly," he adds.) Then, as a theater major and All-American wrestler at the University of Maryland, Taylor took a stand. He wore the Human Rights Campaign logo (an equals sign) on his headgear and began preaching tolerance in the locker room. But respect for Taylor goes both ways. At the request of his Terrapin teammates, who thought the logo crossed a line into politics, he removed it, choosing instead to inject LGBT support into every subsequent interview he gave. Paul Steinbach spoke to Taylor - who is 25, straight, recently married and a volunteer wrestling coach at Columbia University - the day he announced the NCAA's decision to partner with Athlete Ally, the nonprofit organization he founded last year to encourage straight athletes to speak out against homophobia.
Q: How did this become your cause?
A: As a theater major at Maryland, I was exposed to the LGBT community in a way that I hadn't been before. One day, a friend came out to the class, and something really interesting happened: Everyone accepted him and embraced him. Seeing the juxtaposition between the open and accepting theater department and the homophobic language of the locker room really made me realize that I could do something as an athlete.
Q: What specifically did you do?
A: I started to be more vocal. I would ask a lot of questions of my teammates. "Is that really the word that you need to say?" "Do you realize how that makes our team look?" When you make it about respect and about building a united team, I think those are concepts that athletes can understand.
Q: What's behind the homophobic language?
A: Just growing up as a wrestler, you get a lot of homophobic comments. As a result, I think a lot of wrestlers - and pretty much any athletes in contact sports - use homophobic language as a sort of tool to assert straightness.
Q: Were you surprised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published last year that found that gay and lesbian students are only a few percentage points behind their heterosexual peers in terms of their likelihood of participating in organized sports?
A: I was. There is a stereotype that the athletic community is not one in which there's a large percentage of LGBT individuals. So, I think for some folks out there, yeah, that's definitely surprising. But it's data like that that helps our athletic community progress and makes us realize that this is an issue that we need to talk about and we need to do better with.
Q: Will it take a high-profile athlete in one of the major professional team sports coming out during his active career to change the culture once and for all?
A: It's going to make a big difference, but I don't feel comfortable placing that type of burden on somebody. That's a really personal and difficult decision. So my whole effort and strategy is if we get a critical mass of straight allies speaking out and showing support, then it won't be a really big deal for a gay athlete to come out. And I think it's a really easy thing to ask straight allies to show support.