Hudson Taylor ’05 returned to his alma mater on October 11 with a message to today’s students about social courage, inclusive language and embracing others despite their differences. During a speech to the entire Blair community (watch it in full below) and individual meetings with senior leaders, team captains, the School’s Gay-Straight Alliance and small groups in campus dorms, the former three-time All-American wrestler and thespian talked about the importance of standing up for others and openly condemning homophobia and transphobia in sports, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
At Blair, Mr. Taylor was a national championship wrestler, veteran actor who scored the lead in Little Shop of Horrors and a member of the Blair Academy Singers. After graduating, he went on to attend the University of Maryland, where he majored in theatre and played Division 1 sports. Finding the two worlds incredibly different—his theatre friends seemingly accepted and welcomed people of all orientations and identities, while the wrestling culture included rampant homophobic and sexist rhetoric and actions—he began wearing a sticker supporting LGBTQ equality on his headgear. Faced with criticism from his teammates and realizing certain friends were more inclined to be allies, Mr. Taylor stood in solidarity with a population that had long been marginalized in athletics. His actions received national media attention, as well as support from thousands of everyday citizens impressed and motivated by his display of social courage.
Amplifying the Message
Realizing his impact as an individual college wrestler—and an athlete competing in a less-mainstream sport—he wondered how his message of inclusivity and acceptance of the LGBTQ community could be amplified if it was shared by athletes who were part of more popular sports, professional teams or even national leagues. Enter Athlete Ally, an organization Mr. Taylor founded in 2011 to encourage the athletic community to exercise leadership in championing LGBTQ equality and foster discussions about creating inclusive language and safe environments that make everyone, regardless of background or identity, feel comfortable.
“I hope that more people realize that allyship requires action,” said Mr. Taylor, who last addressed the Blair community on these subjects in 2015 and spoke about his organization’s work at the Society of Skeptics in 2011. “There has never been a more successful social justice movement for a minority group without the support of the majority. If we want to live in a more just and equitable world, then we need more allies to stand up and speak out. If every athlete started using their platform with a purpose, there isn’t a problem they couldn’t solve.”
Fundamentally Transforming Athletic Culture
During his visit, Mr. Taylor also touted some of Athlete Ally’s most recent victories, which have included successfully lobbying the International Olympic Committee to include sexual orientation in the Olympic Charter; co-authoring the NCAA’s first-ever policy and resource guide on LGBTQ issues for coaches, athletes and administrators; working with the NBA, NCAA and ACC on their historic decisions to move competitions from North Carolina in the wake of an anti-LGBTQ law; launching the Athletic Equality Index, which sets the standard for schools everywhere by ranking collegiate athletic departments’ LGBTQ inclusiveness; and offering any coach who is interested the tools to create a safe and welcoming environment for their athletes through the organization’s free online curriculum “Champions of Inclusion.”
Never one to rest on his laurels, Mr. Taylor and his team are building upon this momentum with a number of in-progress initiatives that will further advance their cause: implementing a requirement that every coach in America undergo LGBTQ education and creating regional athlete activism conferences to better educate and organize professional, collegiate and high school athletes.
Coming Full Circle
Given all of the success Athlete Ally has achieved and the challenges it continues to face, coming back to share this work with today’s Blair students is especially gratifying for Mr. Taylor, who notes that Blair was the first place he realized that he didn’t have to conform to labels.
“Blair helped me look past labels,” he concluded. “Not only the labels that had been given to me, but the labels that were given to others. The work of Athlete Ally is fundamentally about challenging the assumptions and behaviors that isolate, exclude and endanger others. Had it not been for my experience at Blair as a wrestler, singer, actor and prefect, Athlete Ally would not be what it is today.”