Two lines can have such an important meaning.
Two lines — simple and unassuming — sit right above the knuckle on her ring finger and form an equals sign.
Two lines that Taylor Tvedt got etched into her body to symbolize marriage equality.
In that sense, Tvedt wears part of her identity on her sleeve — with a tattoo that is only hidden by the gloves she wears as a Lehigh women’s lacrosse goalkeeper.
Tvedt came out as gay in high school when she was 16 years old.
Her sexuality isn’t the only thing Tvedt is open about. Her best friend and teammate Allison LaBeau said Tvedt is an open book and doesn’t shy away from voicing her opinions, talking to strangers, complimenting them and having conversations about others’ views to understand the way they think.
“She just compliments people and supports their decisions as they relate to her own, and even if they don’t relate to her own, she loves finding out people’s views and viewpoints and accepting those, and questioning them and finding out (why people think that way),” LaBeau said.
Her openness has helped others on the team to open up as well, which has helped them become a tight-knit group of women.
But her openness has not always been well received.
When Tvedt came out to her high school teammates on the lacrosse and ice hockey teams, her teammates were supportive, but some of their parents were a different story.
Some parents didn’t want a lesbian changing in the same locker room as their daughters.
“Everyone comes from different backgrounds, and I can’t necessarily hold it against them for the ideals that they’ve grown up with,” Tvedt said. “So even when it’s so frustrating when you butt heads with someone so much, I guess I just take things a little bit more lightly and try not to be as sensitive.”
That experience wasn’t the only hurdle in her way during high school, though.
Being raised in the Midwest put Tvedt at a disadvantage when she was trying to get recruited to play lacrosse at a university.
Tvedt also started her lacrosse career later than most other women on her team. She started playing in sixth grade for the first youth program in her community in Michigan. She said most of her teammates at Lehigh are from the East Coast and started playing at a younger age.
When she was in a high school in Apple Valley, Minnesota, she was on a club team that had to travel to the East Coast four times a summer for recruiting tournaments. She said getting coaches to watch a Minnesotan team was hard because they mostly weren’t interested.
“I did a lot of work to get here,” Tvedt said. “Probably a little bit more than East Coast kids had to in their backyard.”
But that didn’t deter Tvedt from being recruited.
A couple of years after coming out to her high school teammates, she came out again to a different group of women after an official visit to Lehigh’s campus. These women would be Tvedt’s teammates once she started college, and she was nervous about what they would think.
Tvedt said she didn’t get up the courage to tell them in person, and only after they had all gone their separate ways did she text in a group message with them to tell them she was gay. She said everyone sent supportive messages.
“It didn’t change anything, which was a huge relief,” Tvedt said.
Even though Tvedt was scared when she came out to her teammates, some of them — such as freshman Annie Pearson — describe her as fearless. When Pearson started on the team two years after Tvedt, she said Tvedt just said it one day.
“I don’t think she was afraid at all, and I think that’s the message she wanted to show them: If you’re gay, then you’re gay — just say it,” Pearson said.
It wasn’t always so easy for Tvedt to be herself, especially in high school.
“I got a lot of anxiety when I tried to read what other people were thinking about me, but really it’s just so not important in life,” she said. “Once you can just feel like you can be yourself and not worry about anyone else, I think that’s when you can do the things you want to do in life.”
Although Tvedt has had her struggles, Lehigh women’s lacrosse coach Jill Redfern said Tvedt has grown from them, and the team and Lehigh has been good at supporting her through the rough spots.
“Life here hasn’t been easy for her as a young adult,” Redfern said. “But I don’t know if that has anything to do with Lehigh or if that’s just life and that would be the same anywhere.”
Redfern can’t remember how Tvedt came out to her but said she and her team were aware of it at some point in the recruiting process, and it didn’t impact her recruitment.
Redfern said Tvedt is a high contributor to the team culture and her teammate, Lauren Beausoleil, said underclassmen look up to Tvedt for working hard and being a competitive player yet rarely complain about her experiences. Pearson said Tvedt often smiled through adversity.
Redfern said respect is a big theme on their team, and she believes this helps Tvedt be herself.
“The things that matter to us are things like a person’s character, their work ethic, their kindness, their generosity and their willingness to give others respect,” Redfern said. “So, you know, gay or not gay becomes pretty irrelevant in a culture like that.”
Five junior women from the team, including Tvedt, LaBeau and Beausoleil, all live together in an off-campus house and are close friends.
Beausoleil said Tvedt has a caring personality and puts others first. She said Tvedt adopted a dog not just for their house or for the women’s team, but for both the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams to have something they could appreciate and love.
“She will do anything for her friends, and I really admire her strength,” Beausoleil said. “I think she has gone through a lot — mentally, physically, emotionally — and she makes sure she puts her teammates first. One thing she’s been working on is focusing more on herself rather than other people because she needs to do that sometimes.”
Tvedt still wants to help others who might be in the same position she is in.
Although she is an advocate for gay rights, Tvedt has not been able to become heavily involved in LGBT clubs and events on campus because of her busy lacrosse schedule. She will, however, be interning with Chelsea Fullerton, the director of the Pride Center for Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, this summer.
She said although they have not officially established what her role will be, she wants to help rebuild some of Lehigh’s LGBT and ally community in the athletics department. Tvedt believes the current program, Athlete Allies, hasn’t been as effective as it could be, and she’s thinking of ways to change it.
“I think the LGBT population here at Lehigh is a little bit miniscule,” Tvedt said. “So, I hope that if other LGBT athletes or athletes in general were to see this they’d perhaps feel more comfortable about being who they are on our campus because it’s sometimes stigmatized as something that needs to be hushed here.”
But she believes gay athletes should worry about performing their best and not keep their identity “hushed.”
“The most important thing is to just go in and be confident and not worry about what other people think,” she said. “When you start playing and performing for your team and for yourself, people will respect you as a player and not based on your sexual identity.”
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