October 5, 2017 by Seth Rubinroit
NEW YORK – A group of USC athletic coaches crowded around Donna Heinel and Lani Lawrence, who had just revealed that USC was going to be honored for its support of LGBTQ student-athletes by Athlete Ally.
The coaches peppered Heinel and Lawrence with questions about the recognition, and eagerly requested promotional materials to distribute to their players and recruits.
“Everyone is on board,” Lawrence said. “USC wants to be the gold standard of what it means to bring inclusion into athletics. We want to be the example of how to promote, educate and bring awareness to equality for all LGBT athletes, coaches and staff.”
There are 65 schools in the Power Five conferences. Just two—USC and Stanford—earned perfect scores in Athlete Ally’s Athletic Equality Index, a comprehensive ranking and review of LGBTQ inclusion practices and policies.
Both universities were honored Tuesday night at the annual Athlete Ally Action Awards in New York City.
USC was represented by Lawrence, a clinical and sport psychologist at USC who is the director of a LGBT committee that meets to improve the treatment of LGBT athletes on campus. Heinel, USC’s Sr. Associate Athletic Director, was unavailable to travel to New York.
Lawrence highlighted USC’s plans for National Coming Out Day, which will take place on Oct. 11. Coaches and student-athletes will wear pride shirts on campus, and pose for a group photo.
“Last year we ran out of T-shirts because the demand was so high,” Lawrence said. “This year we are doubling the order.”
Supporting LGBTQ student-athletes can provide a recruiting advantage, according to Hudson Taylor, the Founder and Executive Director of Athlete Ally.
“You have more high school athletes coming out, and even more are outspoken advocates,” Taylor said. “Kids want to go to schools that are not only good athletically, but also reflect their values.”
The Pac-12 was the conference with the highest average score, 79.88.
UCLA earned a score of 82.5, the fifth-best score in the Pac-12. Notre Dame received a 40, well below the overall average of 66.1.
“It’s always great to beat UCLA and Notre Dame,” Lawrence said, laughing.
The inaugural Athletic Equality Index, which was published on Sept. 12, has already inspired colleges to make changes to create more inclusive athletic environments. Taylor pointed out that TCU initially received a 60, but updated its LGBTQ policies to improve to an 85.
“These policies are not that difficult to change, once people are aware,” Taylor said. “I anticipate more schools getting to 100 percent, especially as the competition grows. Schools want to beat their rivals.”