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Conference examines LGBT experience in sports

Daniel Durbin, director of the Institute of Sports, Media, & Society (Photo/courtesy of USC Annenberg)

Sports and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) experience was the subject of a three-day conference hosted last month by the Institute of Sports, Media, & Society based at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“Our goal in creating this conference was to move the discussion of this important subject forward and to engage scholars, journalists and athletes in a unique forum that allowed for open discussion and debate,” said Daniel Durbin, USC Annenberg clinical professor and director of the institute, which co-hosted the event with the LGBT Resource Center and The Norman Lear Center.

Adam Rogers and USC Annenberg PhD candidate Evan Brody served as co-directors of the conference. Over the course of three days, six panels were held in the Geoffrey Cowan Forum and the Annenberg Auditorium. Panelists ranged from USC student-athletes to coaches, sports administrators, journalists, scholars and current and former professional athletes, including former MLB outfielder Billy Bean, former NFL defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo and professional softball player and Olympic silver medalist Lauren Lappin.

“This seemed an especially fortuitous time to have a conference discussing the LGBT experience,” Durbin said, alluding to the recent controversy surrounding Russia’s stance on homosexuality and the upcoming Winter Olympics in that country.

Durbin developed the institute in 2009 with the aim of focusing on sports and their impact on culture through communication media. He approached the Rogers and Brody last year about co-directing the conference.

“Evan Brody is doing his dissertation on the convergence of sports and the LGBT experience, and my background is in LGBT issues,” said Rogers, who previously worked for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “Co-directing the conference was a fantastic experience for us.”

“Sports and the Collegiate LGBT Experience,” the second of two panels held on Oct. 23, featured USC swimmer Sean Mulroy, USC Senior Associate Athletic Director Donna Heinel and USC clinical sports psychologist Nohelani Lawrence, among others.

“We figured it would be a missed opportunity, being at a school with an extraordinary sports tradition, to not include the collegiate experience [in this conference],” Brody said in opening the panel discussion. “So we wanted to see what USC is doing to make safe spaces for athletes, as well as the NCAA in general.”

During the 90-minute discussion, the talk focused on LGBT issues in college, recreational and professional athletics, addressing LGBT issues with teammates, coaches and parents, LGBT athletes in relation with religion and race, and what’s next for the LGBT collegiate athletics community.

“It’s been an amazing couple of years looking at LGBT and collegiate issues,” said Pat Griffin, the panel’s moderator. “There has been more progress in the past three years than in the previous 20. This panel is happening in the context of big change.”

The panelists also emphasized the importance of allies who advocate for LGBT issues on college campuses. Several praised USC Athletic Director Pat Haden’s commitment to addressing LGBT issues in college athletics.

“With Pat taking over, we acknowledge the existence of gay and lesbian athletes on campus,” Heinel said. “He is just all about support and all about student-athletes’ welfare.”

Other panels at the conference were titled “LGBT Sports Scholarship: A Conversation With Senior Scholars,” “LGBT Sports and Entrepreneurial Journalism,” “Critical Discourses on LGBT Sports,” “The State of LGBT Sports and Popular Media” and “Professional Sports and the LGBT Experience,” all of which were well-attended, according to organizers.

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Conference examines LGBT experience in sports

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