It’s common for homophobia to be overlooked in the world of sports, but such actions were the inspiration for Eastern Michigan University’s Student Alliance for Gay Athletes (and Allies).
“A friend was at a team party where he was being harassed and verbally abused and we didn’t want anyone else to go through that,” said Maggie Manville, co-founder of SAGA. “We thought there needed to be a lot more awareness in the athletic community because there’s barely any. There are few who know gay athletes, or gay people in general, so it’s something that isn’t talked about.”
Stemming from EMU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, SAGA is a new addition to the LGBT community of EMU and its athletic community. The group plans to promote and push for a homophobia-free athletic environment for student-athletes through awareness and education.
“SAGA member Shawn Gancarz and I started talking about it around March and it became a real organization this past fall,” Manville said. “We were corresponding with the University of Michigan’s Michigan Athletes and Allies Partnership but they fell through. Once initiative taken and we spoke to the LGBTRC’s Program Coordinator Mary Larkin, the group finally started to form. Once we were assertive things started to work out, but it was a long process.”
The organization strives to create a safe space for LGBT athletes and allies to come together, educate and promote awareness in the athletics program and campus. According to the student organization’s description, the group is open to everyone who is willing to participate respectively and positively to the betterment of the group. Even if one does not identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, any potential members are encouraged to be an ally and participate.
“We hope to offer support for LGBT-identified athletes and create awareness in the athletic community,” Manville said. “Hopefully the leaders on campus will take initiative and extend it further across campus.”
Whether one identifies as a student athlete or not, SAGA is looking for more members. While they have approximately seventy-five members on Facebook, up to ten members attend meetings regularly.
“We have a lot of support on Facebook but some are afraid to attend if they don’t identify as LGBT,” Manville said. “Some are scared to attend meetings because they don’t want to be perceived as gay which is why we have added Allies to our group’s name.”
Despite the organization’s title, SAGA’s focus isn’t strictly athletics, working out or hitting the gym every chance available.
“We had a bowling night few weeks ago and another time we met at my house just to hang out,” Manville said. “It’s not just an athletic group but also a support group where members can hang out with like-minded people.”
Students interested in joining don’t have to worry about member inductions or the like.
“To become a member, just show up,” Manville said. “Anyone can be a member and allies are one of the most important parts of the group. A big part of SAGA is providing ally training and educating them and to help make a safe space for LGBT athletes.”
“Our biggest goal is to implement safe training in EMU Athletics and have all the coaches and all the captains go through this training,” Manville said. “We’re teaming up with the LGBTRC to provide this safe training. They provide ally and diversity training and it’s something athletics needs now with all that’s happening in this country with the recent gay teen suicides. If we can reach out and educate others, I think SAGA will have a bright future.”
The Student Alliance for Gay Athletes and Allies meets twice a month on the third floor of the EMU Student Center. For more information on meeting times and becoming a member, join SAGA on Facebook or contact Manville at firstname.lastname@example.org.