[Nat Brown is the former owner of Nordic Ultratune and has just become editor of the new magazine-within-the-magazine for Cross-Country Skier magazine, called “The Racer.”]
Last winter I was approached by a nationally-ranked skier, who wanted to know if there was such a thing as an athletic grant or scholarship for gay athletes.
Some of you will know how difficult it can be for gay people in sports, others may be surprised. First, there is the stigma that “sports aren’t for gay people.” I think I’ve proven that one wrong in my own career - but it took me a long time to get up the courage to get into sports.
Second, there is the huge prejudice faced by gay athletes – from slurs, to physical violence, to teammates who don’t want to shower in the same room with a “fag.” In my case, there was a slander movement back in the 80’s to keep me off the USST, which almost succeeded until an outspoken friend on the team intervened.
Finally, gay athletes are often petrified to come out, for fear of losing sponsorships or a spot on the team or alienating their friends and teammates. It took me ages to come out to some of my athletes and colleagues, and to team members, and it was awful to feel that I was not being honest with people who meant – and mean! - a very great deal to me. I deeply regret the “years of silence” when I was out to close friends, but avoiding the issue in my wider career.
As a result of this atmosphere of fear, many gay people simply never enter sports, and those that do are often terrified to come out and simply be who they are. It is a dreadful stifling of human potential and honesty.
I have decided, in a small way, to do something about all this.
I have started the Athletic Excellence Scholarship through the Seattle-based Pride Foundation. Pride has raised funding for LGBT projects since 1985, and last winter, in partnership with the Greater Seattle Business Association, ninety-seven students received more than $230,000 in scholarships. (Together with their scholarship partner, the Greater Seattle Business Association, Pride has passed the million-dollar mark in scholarship funds raised; in addition, Pride has also awarded over $4,000,000 in grants to non-profit organizations supporting LGBT projects in the Northwest.) Attending the awards breakfast in May was a deeply moving experience: some of these young people have survived enormous deprivation and prejudice, and others have achieved, or are working toward, an inspiring range of projects and degrees - and all both deserved and needed the help they received; many were in tears.
The Athletic Excellence Scholarship is for college-bound LGBT individuals who intend to pursue sports while studying, or plan to pursue international excellence. Applicants must work though an accredited institution, and must attend school or be based in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho or Montana.
My goal is to help gay youth to claim a place in sports: first, by letting them know there is help available from people who care; second, by providing practical support in the form of scholarship money; and third, to improve the overall situation by helping gay athletes to establish a visible presence in the sport of their choice.
I have written to all my friends to consider making a donation. I have “primed the pump” with a personal donation of $1,000. The goal is to establish an annual scholarship of $5,000 - a large enough sum to make a real difference to someone who needs help.
Can you help?
Donations should be made to the Pride Foundation, and earmarked “Athletic Scholarship.” Checks can be mailed t Pride Foundation, Athletic Excellence Scholarship, 1122 E Pike Street, PMB 1001, Seattle, WA 98122. Or you go to the Pride website: http://www.pridefoundation.org/our_programs/scholarships/
Please join us: we are looking for donors, of course – but also for friends who would be interested in helping us to raise funds – and we are looking for scholarship applicants (any Northwest-based LGBT youth should check out the Pride website for a list of the various scholarships available. Go to: http://www.pridefoundation.org/our_programs/scholarships/ )
Please consider joining us in this project.
Nat Brown is a three-time Olympic coach in cross-country skiing, and has coached at seven World Championships and seven Junior World Championships. He was the first American to take over ski service for a foreign country (Slovenia). Prior to coaching, he taught at the Overlake School in Redmond, Washington for 16 years. He is the author of The Complete Guide to Cross-Country Ski Preparation (The Mountaineers Book – now in a Russian edition)), and currently owns and runs a small race-service shop in Edmonds Washington His loves are classical music, good books, and his ranch in British Columbia.