By: Shannon Duffy
Sky Blue player Imani Dorsey joined NYCFC goalkeeper Brad Stuver, Athlete Ally’s Joanna Hoffman, and Streetfootballworld’s Lilli Barrett-O’Keefe for a panel discussion on the role of sports in creating a safer space for LGBTQ athletes. The panel was hosted by NYCFC and moderated by Hoffman.
The panelists all agreed that 2020 has been an untraditional year for activism, from the COVID-19 pandemic to a recent surge in the Black Lives Matter movement. However, Stuver mentioned that the circumstances have allowed him time to step back from soccer and gain a deeper understanding of what is going on in the world. This is something he would not have had the chance to do if the season were not on hold. Dorsey added that she used quarantine as an opportunity to stay involved and reach out to people she does not typically interact with. With the challenging times that we are facing right now, both players emphasized the importance of staying informed and listening to others.
While both players have been vocal in speaking out about injustice, they mentioned that society has not made it very easy to be both an athlete and an activist. Dorsey warned that we need to stop viewing sport as a utopia that is free from discrimination and inequality. People often expect athletes to stick to their respective sports but forget that they are people first and face the same issues as the rest of us. This expectation has caused many athletes to be hesitant to speak out on topics that concern them because they fear they will be ostracized for their actions. To this point, Stuver explained that he stayed silent on relevant issues for many years, but recently began to speak up when he realized that some things, such as inclusion and equality are more important than sport. Recently, many athletes have followed in Stuver and Dorsey’s footsteps as more and more are using their platform to speak out against inequality based on race, gender, and sexual orientation.
Before ending the discussion, the panelists all made sure to address how we can make sport a more inclusive space for everyone. Barrett-O’Keefe, who works with soccer organizations to help them make their programs more welcoming to LGBTQ athletes, mentioned that we need to do a better job of making athletes feel accepted for who they are. Far too often, marginalized individuals feel they can’t be both queer and an athlete because of the heteronormative culture that has dominated sport for many years. By having important discussions with young athletes, listening to their concerns, and establishing a culture of acceptance, we can make sport a more welcoming space for everyone. Dorsey and Struver both emphasized that we cannot be perfect in our allyship efforts, but we must try to speak up, reach out, and empathize with others in order to force necessary change.
As panel host Joana Hoffman mentioned at the end of the chat, “none of us are free until all of us are free.” Until all races, genders, and sexual orientations feel accepted in their sports, we all have a responsibility to stand up and do more.
Dorsey, 24, joined Athlete Ally as a Professional Ambassador in September 2019. Just a month after becoming an Ambassador, Dorsey penned one of the most-read pieces on the Athlete Ally website. The article, titled Becoming the Norm, advocates for the inclusion and equality of LGBTQ+ athletes, trans female athletes in particular.