Prior to coming to Lehigh, freshman distance runner Susie Poore attended a high school that failed to promote diversity, inclusion and equity within its athletic department.
When Poore arrived at Lehigh, she made it one of her goals to focus on creating a more inclusive environment among athletes. So, when Poore had the chance to become a member of Athlete Ally, she jumped at the opportunity.
“It has been an amazing experience getting to help with the goal of Athlete Ally,” she said.
Founded in spring 2014, Lehigh’s chapter of Athlete Ally — a national nonprofit organization — is heading into its fifth year of promoting inclusivity within the athletic department and educating the community on ways to combat discrimination against those who identify as LGBTQ+.
Poore said she’s happy with the progress the group has been making. When she joined in the fall, Athlete Ally had fewer than 10 members. Membership doubled after Athlete Ally partnered with ASCEND — a group that focuses on diversity in athletics — and formed TIDE: tackling inclusion, diversity and equity.
Since coming out as gay this fall, Poore has had multiple other students reach out to her for advice.
“Coming out is different for everyone,” she said. “If you want to do it to a few close friends that’s fine, or if you wanted to do it more publicly like I did, that’s fine too. There is no right or wrong way. It’s however you feel most comfortable.”
Athlete Ally co-captain Mary Ellen Carron, a junior on the Lehigh women’s lacrosse team, joined the group after learning about it and becoming passionate about its cause. Carron said it’s exciting to be able to help the national organization move closer to accomplishing its goal, and she has been pleased with the success of Lehigh’s chapter.
“More teams are represented within our organization this year, which is awesome and an indication that we are moving in the right direction,” she said.
Carron said the best part about being a member of a team and a member of Athlete Ally is that both groups are working toward a common goal.
Since joining Athlete Ally in 2016, Scott Burden, the associate director of the Pride Center, said he has seen the group take great strides and make positive impacts on the Lehigh community.
“Between 9-16 percent of the Lehigh student body identifies as not heterosexual, and a large portion of those students are only out to a few people, probably around 80 percent,” Burden said.
Burden said this is where Athlete Ally’s work comes into play and focuses on trying to help LGBTQ+ student-athletes feel safe, included and comfortable in their environment.
The group recently hosted Hudson Taylor, a former wrestler at the University of Maryland and the creator of Athlete Ally, who regularly speaks on behalf of his organization at Lehigh.
“There were way more people that came to the (event) than I had expected, and I was really happy about that,” Poore said.
In an attempt to gain new members, the group is working on planning a handful of different activities, including arts and crafts sessions, movie nights and guest speaker events.
The group members’ current initiative is sharing their “elephants in the room,” or the important moments in their lives that have shaped them into who they are today.
Though Poore’s teammates welcomed her with open arms after she came out, she said the greater Lehigh community has not been as accepting, which is something she’s focused on changing.
“If anyone is struggling with this, just know you’re not alone,” Poore said. “Others are going through this too, and that is why Athlete Ally was created, to help those individuals feel more comfortable.”