It takes a team, and athletic departments need to do more on sexuality matters

(Note: A recent edition of LIFE@OSU quoted OSU softball coach Kirk Walker giving advice to staff and

Kirk Walker is OSU's women's softball coach.

Kirk Walker is OSU's women's varsity softball coach

faculty on how best to help gay, lesbian, and bisexual athletes address their sexuality. He expands on those initiatives and recounts his own experiences here in an interview during the last week of October with the Women’s Sports Foundation, founded in 1974 by Billie Jean King. – Editor)

1. How did you decide to come out as a gay coach?
I had been out to my family and friends for several years.  I had come out to some of my coaching peers in the softball world and at OSU as well.   The final step of coming out publicly to my team and the media came about due to my pending adoption of a new born child with my Partner, Randy Baltimore.

2. How did you come out to your team? Your coaching colleagues?
I came out to my team in a team meeting early in the fall.  It was not a specific meeting for that purpose, but we had completed all of our team topics and I just felt that it was as good a time as any to tell them about the adoption and my partner.  With my coaching colleagues it was over a period of time and then once it became public then the rest just found out.

3. How does being openly gay affect your recruiting efforts with prospective athletes and their families?
As far as I can tell and have experienced, there has been no negative effects with any recruits that have not come to OSU because of my sexuality.  It generally comes up on in person visits or in home visits when discussing my daughter and family.  I do not hesitate any longer to correct someone when they ask about my wife.  I just say, my partner….  Some parents ask more questions and become very interested, some are not outwardly affected and the visit continues without a pause.   I did speak on a forum panel with Esera Tuaolo here at OSU and my full team attended and sat in the front row, including the freshman and that did send a quick pause in me when I first saw them all.   My sexuality or any topic of sexuality specifically is never really a discussion between me and my players, so it was odd to talk about those experiences in front of them.   We do discuss diversity and acceptance but rarely focus specifically on sexuality in our daily team discussions.  So I did wonder how the freshman viewed that discussion.

4. How do parents of athletes on your team react to their daughters having a gay coach?
Well I can only describe what I have felt and have experienced and it has been very uneventful.  I know that several of them are very proud of my journey and my willingness to take that huge step because it supports what we preach all the time to our players and parents that we are a family with many differences and strengths that we need to celebrate and not hide from each other.  For some of the other parents that were less vocal about their thoughts, I have always felt that I am judged by my ability to coach their daughter and help her become a more successful individual rather then my sexuality.

5. How does your experience of coaching as an openly gay man compare to coaching while closeted?
I would say that just like any person that has come out of the closet, I feel more comfortable and less anxious about saying something or being seen with someone that might give up my secret.  In terms on my coaching….well I don’t really think that I feel or experience things dramatically different.  I was passionate about coaching before, I passionate about coaching now, and have never felt more fortunate to do what I do for a living.

6. What does your team/school do to support you as an openly gay coach?
Well, most importantly I feel they support me as a coach.  And not really as a gay coach.  I don’t ask for any different support and don’t seek any different support because of my sexuality.  It is only one small component of what and who I am.  The support I need for my profession and for my team is independent and not relevant to my sexuality.  I am challenged more often by the lack of support for a women’s sport then I am for being a gay coach.

7. Have you had any negative experiences in athletics since coming out?
I am not aware of anything that has been a negative to my coming out.  Honestly, I really see the good in people as best I can and I have little expectations on others.   There probably have been some negative ramifications, but none that I am aware of or honestly really care about because they don’t affect me or the people that I care about.

8. Negative recruiting is a problem for women coaches, have you experienced negative recruiting as a gay coach?
Not that I am aware of.  I have never heard of a coach saying anything to a recruit or using my sexuality against me.  I am well respected for my work as well as disliked for my successes.  If it has been used against me I have yet to hear about it or seen the effects.   So I assume that it is not happening until someone proves me wrong.

9. What advice do you have for other LGBT coaches who are thinking about coming out to their communities, teams, colleagues in athletics?
Well it is really hard to give advice to any other individual about coming out in any profession or any part of the country.   I know that I felt comfortable with my abilities as a coach, my contribution to the university and the sport and to my athletes.  If you are thinking about doing it….it is probably long over due.  If you are still very fearful for your job and for your ability to succeed then you probably are not ready even if those fears are not a reality.   For most people, the fear is the greatest obstacle and in many cases the fears are grossly over exaggerated.  That being said, I did not come out for any other reason then I wanted my team to hear it from me and not from anyone else.  I owed it to them to be honesty.    In the many years previous to coming out, I would have never lied to someone about my sexuality or partner if asked, but I did not feel a need to share that information.  I still believe strongly that it is not anyone else’s business.   I also don’t feel the need to have to share my sexuality to everyone that I meet.  It does not define me, it is part of a full description of who I am and I am not ashamed of my sexuality. 

10. How can schools best support LGBT coaches?
I think there are my resources on most campuses across the country, but within the athletic departments there is a lot lacking.   I think diversity in general needs to be a daily dialogue from administration and within the athletic department and teams.   The greatest support anyone can get is security and freedom from any negative or hostile environment.

11. What recommendations do you have for athletic departments to make athletics respectful and inclusive for LGBT people?
Probably going off the previous question and answer, it is imperative that every athletic department have a no tolerance for bigotry, harassment, or intimidation when it comes to diversity of religion, sex, sexuality, race, etc…  There is absolutely no need or value for any athlete, coach or team staff person to be harassed.   It does not and will never motivate a player to be a better athlete because they are ridiculed or taunted for a diversity issue that they have no control over.  If an athlete is lazy or acting weak then call them out for that, don’t allow coaches to use derogatory comments or phrases that demean another diversity group that may or may not be within ear shot.   Ignorance or lack of quality communication skills is no excuse to defer to using unacceptable derogatory words or phrases related to race, sex, sexuality, religion, physical attributes or limitations.   Coaches or administrators that revert to tired old tactics that were used on them decades earlier are completely out of touch and not growing beyond their own experiences.  And therefore have little to offer the athletes of today and future generations of valued citizens of the USA and the world.

12. What initiatives has your school taken to make athletics a safe and respectful place for LGBT athletes and coaches?
Our athletic department requires every athlete to attend at least one discussion or presentation a year covering a topic of diversity.  I think those forums can lead to further dialogues.   The Student Athlete Advisory Committee additionally works hard to create positive opportunities for all of the student-athletes to grow.  There are certainly more things that should be done, but overall there is a general willingness by most in the department to education and not discriminate.  Unfortunately as in most places there are some coaches and administrators that are truly uneducated in terms of sexuality and have a limited understanding of sexuality because of inaccurate religious fears or misconceptions.

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