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Leveling the Playing Field

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

"Whoever said that high school was the best years of your life was full of crap," a student athlete says in the trailer for the documentary Out for the Long Run.

That sentiment will ring true for a lot of people, but perhaps for none more than for gay and bisexual students trying to find their place in what filmmaker Scott Bloom has called "the most homophobic place on a high school campus: the locker room."

Bloom's 2011 film follows gay high school and college athletes over the course of a year, showing both their individual victories and struggles and the larger social context of the world of student athletics.

A free screening of the film will be held on Tuesday, April 10 at 7 p.m. at Northampton High School. The event is sponsored by the LGBT Coalition of Western Mass., the UMass Stonewall Center and the Northampton High Gay-Straight Alliance. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with LGBT athletes and allies, including Pat Griffin, a retired UMass professor of social justice education and author of the book Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sport, who writes about LGBT issues in sports at ittakesateam.blogspot.com.

Out for the Long Run examines a topic that rarely gets attention, Suzan Seymour, executive director of the LGBT Coalition, told the Advocate. "We believe this is something that is not really discussed openly. It's kind of hush-hush, certainly among young men," she said.

That carries over into professional athletics as well. Although there are some well-known gay pro athletes—tennis players Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King; Johnny Weir, a three-time National Champion figure skater; and Olympic diver Greg Louganis, to name a few—they're few and far between. While various studies place the number of gay Americans at between four and 10 percent of the total population, the percentage of out professional athletes is much, much smaller.

And, Seymour noted, in many cases, athletes don't feel comfortable coming out until later in their careers, after they've achieved success and financial security—if at all.

"It always goes back to the same thing: if you're not comfortable or feeling safe about coming out, that's what keeps people in the closet," Seymour said. "Your family or your society not accepting it. Or your career depends on it."

In an announcement of the event, UMass Stonewall Center Director Genny Beemyn called the documentary "a very important film for what it can teach us about the negative climate for LGB people in high schools and what LGB people themselves are doing to rise above it. While anti-LGBT school bullying and harassment have received growing attention in the last couple years, much more needs to be done so that the out individuals profiled in the film are not the exceptions in being successful."

For more information about the screening, call 413-588-1018 or go to www.lgbtcoalitionwma.org.

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