In October 2011, straight ally and rugby star Ben Cohen visited the Queen City to speak out for equality and to fundraise for his anti-bullying StandUp Foundation. In March 2012 straight ally and NCAA wrestler Hudson Taylor was in town as a speaker for Campus Pride. On April 7, Campus Pride and Time Out Youth are partnering to present a “Believe in Youth” speaker series with marriage equality advocate Zach Wahls.
Wahls is a 20-year-old straight ally who is best known as “the boy with two moms” from YouTube who spoke to the Iowa General Assembly against a proposed anti-LGBT amendment. In 2011 the video went viral and was YouTube’s number one political video of the year. Since then, Wahls has continued to advocate for marriage equality across the country and his visit to Charlotte will be one month before North Carolina votes on the anti-LGBT Amendment One.
“Zach’s amazing conviction in standing up for the rights of his family has been an inspiration to LGBT young people, families and straight allies across this nation,” said Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer. “At a time when the national debate on marriage equality for same-sex couples continues to be used as a political football, Zach’s simple message of love, honor and commitment reminds each of us what a family is really about and acts to empower young people across the nation to stand up for what they believe is right and true.”
Time Out Youth Executive Director Rodney Tucker added, “Zach represents a new generation of Americans who are willing to step up for their LGBT families, friends and peers. Developing strong allies like Zach is important to our mission. Zach is an excellent example of how our straight allies can represent the LGBT community and lead in the fight for equality.”
The event is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 7, at the Wells Fargo Auditorium at Knight Theatre at Levine Center for the Arts, 430 S. Tryon St. This event is free and open to the public.
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Interview with Hudson Taylor
When you first put the HRC logo on your headgear, did you think that the response would be anything like this?
No, I had absolutely no idea. It was really just a statement that I thought I could make on my wrestling team and in my own community. I never thought that it would blow up into what I am doing today and encourage me to be as aggressive and vocal as I am. If it wasn’t for that sticker, I absolutely would not be where I am today. It definitely caught me by surprise, but it is a welcome one.
Was there an initial reaction from your team?
Yes and that is where a lot of my lessons were learned. Before I put the sticker on, I was advocating to my team about using inclusive language and not diminishing others. That was something a lot of my teammates understood and were really able to get behind. They were being more conscious about the words they used and it was really great to see.
When the sticker came around that conversation changed. All of the sudden it was less about respect and inclusion and more about “these are my political beliefs, these are my religious beliefs and you will never convince me otherwise.” As a result, I got into a lot of conversations that devolved into who could yell louder for longer and it was because of that sticker that I realized when I am advocating in the athletic space, I am not trying to make someone change their political or religious beliefs.
I am trying to create an athletic community that welcomes and respects everyone. That is something that I think my teammates and the athletes and coaches I talk to across the country can get behind.
What has been the response to Athlete Ally?
The response has been overwhelmingly awesome. I think we are reaching a tipping point in athletics. More and more coaches and athletes are willing to have these kinds of conversations. The interests keep going up and up. I was just on a phone call with the NCAA talking about what kind of policies and programs can be put in place to make sure LGBT student athletes have a better experience. The momentum and enthusiasm just keeps building and I feel very lucky to be a part of it.
Now that you are a wrestling coach, do things look different on the other side?
The team has been really great. New York City is a very diverse place and Columbia University has over 100 countries represented in their students, so it is a very diverse population, which I think that helps in making the locker rooms a bit more inclusive. That being said, there were definitely still times when guys would say things, but what has been the most successful and the easiest application has been to instill an honor code that says “this is what it means to be a Columbia wrestler and a part of this school.” When you define that with words like respect, inclusion and honor, all of the sudden the identity of a Columbia wrestler becomes synonymous with being an ally and I think that is what we are seeing happen.
Why is it important to work with organizations such as Campus Pride?
It is enormously important! We need to engage in conversations with as many different people as possible. That is how people’s opinions change and that is what leads to more inclusive policies and a better campus climate. The work of Campus Pride, doing the educating, the training and the research, these are all steps that are necessary that are very helpful for people like me when talking to other athletes. I can tell them to look at Campus Pride and read the research they have done on their Campus Climate Index. That research is something that administrators, coaches and athletes will listen to and care about. It really is an enormous asset when advocating for change.
What is your next step in advocating for equality and inclusion in athletics?
From the phone call with the NCAA, I am going to be putting together a list of things that I think they can do that athletics across the country should be doing. I want to try to put together resources to give student athletes a voice. My whole goal with everything is how can I remove as many obstacles as possible to help student athletes speak out. I have been writing up a constitution and mission statement to help athletes create student campus organizations. The next step is to help mobilize more folks.
What advice would you give to a student athlete who wants to advocate making their own campus more inclusive?
I think everybody has varying levels of comfort when this conversation comes up. I think it is important to offer suggestions that represent those varying levels of comfort. For some, I think the easiest thing to do is to take a pledge, like on Athlete Ally or sign something on Facebook. Let it be known to your friends and family what it is you stand for without necessarily having to be confrontational. Using your virtual voice online is a great first step to be vocal.
Beyond that, wear it on your sleeve; equality T-shirts, putting up Pride pins, HRC stickers and Campus Pride pins are all things that let it be known to those around us that this is something we support. The more people that show their support in these kinds of ways, the more our community’s awareness goes up.
If you are willing to do those steps, then I think you are ready to get involved with organizations like Campus Pride and Athlete Ally and be more vocal and aggressive.
On May 8 there will be a chance for North Carolina to vote on a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. What would you say to someone who was on the fence about an issue of equality such as this?
There are four principals that make me do the work that I am doing and I think the first one really pertains to this kind of legislation and it is the “platinum rule”: treat others as they want to be treated — not as you want to be treated, but how they want to be treated. When you look at the LGBT community, the men and women in North Carolina and across the country, it is very clear that they are not being treated the way that they want to be treated or, honestly, the way that they deserve to be treated. I think it is very clear to see what decision is the inclusive one and the respectful one. I really believe that everyone should have the maximum amount of rights without infringing on the rights of others. Offering protection and inclusion to our community members does nothing but make our community stronger. : :