AB first spoke to Hudson Taylor in 2012, a year after the former collegiate wrestler had launched a nonprofit advocacy group for LGBT student-athletes called Athlete Ally. In the five years since, the group has gone from no staff members to eight (five full-time). There are now 32 Athlete Ally chapters on campuses across the country, and more than 150 professional athletes have signed on as organization ambassadors. The group has helped influence LGBT policies and practices within the NCAA and the IOC, and branched out to advocate for more women in FIFA governance and for the wearing of hijabs to be allowed in FIBA women's basketball competition. On Sept. 12, Athlete Ally released its first Athletic Equality Index, a scoring of LGBT polices within the 65 NCAA Division I athletic departments comprising the Power Five conferences. AB senior editor Paul Steinbach caught up with Taylor to talk progress.
How does the Athletic Equality Index fit into your organization's overall goals?
One goal is that everybody who's involved in sports is educated on LGBT respect and inclusion, but another really important outcome for us is for there to be policy uniformity. By that I mean every athletic community should have the same LGBT policies and protections. An LGBT athlete who is at one school should not have fewer rights or protections if they transfer schools. The Athletic Equality Index is our effort to move the athletic community in that direction.
Scores ranged from a negative-45 (Baylor) to perfect 100s (Stanford, USC). How did you come by those figures?
We had an independent researcher go through handbooks and newspaper clippings and social media accounts of all 65 schools in the Power Five. It took a bit of time with each school to make sure that we really weren't missing anything. After that, we went out to all 65 schools with our findings and gave them four weeks to respond and clarify and correct us if we had missed anything, or to update their policies, if they wanted, prior to the launch.
Did any of them update?
Prior to us reaching out to the schools, only three of the 65 institutions had explicitly adopted the NCAA guidelines for their transgender student-athletes. By the time we went public with the report, that number had reached nine.
What did you personally take away from the results?
These NCAA best practices have been in existence going back to 2011. That's when they adopted at least the transgender guidelines, so to have had so many institutions not update their policies since then is a bit frustrating. But then to have had this opportunity to reach out to these schools and see such a quick response and turnaround from so many was particularly inspiring. The other thing that definitely jumped out at me was that different conferences score better on different things. For instance, one of our criteria that we looked at was having an LGBT-inclusive fan code of conduct. Many colleges did not have one. However, the SEC, as a conference, did best on the fan code of conduct side. You think of conferences in which member institutions occupy the South, more conservative areas of the country, they may not be better on some issues, but in fact — when it came to fan culture and fan conduct — the SEC is doing a better job of addressing that than the coastal conferences.
Are you pleased with the overall trajectory of tolerance since we last spoke?
I would say in the past five years we've seen more athletes come out, more athletes speak out, more teams and leagues take a stand than at any time in history. So we are certainly in a period of athlete activism, in a period of athletic communities really embracing their responsibility for the acceptance and respect of the entirety of their constituents. But I think of this work as not being the beginning of the end but sort of the end of the beginning. We still have a tremendous amount of work to be done, but in every corner of this country there's at least a conversation now taking place that wasn't taking place even five years ago.
This article originally appeared in the November | December 2017 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Scoring LGBT policies in the Power Five." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.