The Lehigh-LGBTQ+ Experience: Female athlete wishes to go back in the closet


With Lehigh’s highly ranked liberal arts education and its reputation as one of the best schools for LGBTQ+ students, one female member of Lehigh Athletics expected a diverse and accepting college environment.

Instead, her teammates called her homophobic slurs, frequently talked behind her back and even accused her of watching them in the shower.

Now, for the first time in her life, she wishes she could go back in the closet. 

“I’ve never truly experienced such abhorrent homophobia before,” she said. “It’s never been this bad, and it’s the opposite experience I thought I would get here.”

This female athlete said her experience with Lehigh Athletics began on a positive note, but she now estimates that about half of her team is set in their homophobic ways, making it extremely difficult to associate with her teammates. Within a week into her time at Lehigh, she was looking into how quickly she could transfer schools. 

Despite growing up in what she describes as a “cookie-cutter, white-picket-fence, conservative” town, the athlete said she was never made to feel weird about sharing who she was. In fact, her identity laid more in her athletic ability and intelligence than her sexual orientation. 

This isn’t the case at Lehigh. 

“I’m the queer teammate instead of just being a teammate who happens to be queer,” she said.

The athlete said she feels like she absolutely cannot be herself in front of her teammates, and that her LGBTQ+ identity is boiling beneath the surface of every conversation she has with them.

This homophobia has interfered with her athletic performance. 

“Instead of worrying about how I’m playing 100 percent of the time, I’m worried about what other people are thinking of me and trying to adhere to them,” she said.

The athlete said she tries to interact with her teammates at parties, but ends up getting shut down — often left standing by herself in a corner and resigning herself to leave early. 

“I tried to be one of the girls, but I never will be,” she said. 

In addition to the discrimination, she has had to deal with a common phenomenon — the hyper-sexualization of queer women.

The athlete said her teammates have used her as an accessory to make themselves seem more desirable for men by outing her identity and claiming she is “obsessed” with them.

“I swear to God, these girls are thinking about me having sex with them more than I am,” she joked. 

She said there are allies on the team, but she struggles to differentiate what is performative and what is genuine, which makes it difficult to know who to trust. She has confided in the coaching staff about the mistreatment, but no action has come from it. 

With her busy academic and athletic schedules, this athlete said she struggles to find time to engage with spaces designed for LGBTQ+ students on campus and is still looking for places where she can be completely herself. 

The most important thing we can do to combat homophobia in Lehigh Athletics, according to this athlete, is simple: listen. Speaking up in an environment that places such an emphasis on toughness takes extreme courage. 

What is weighing on this athlete’s shoulders is the pressure to change the environment and create a more welcoming experience for incoming freshmen. 

It shouldn’t be queer athletes’ responsibility to change the very culture that is oppressing them. 

Homophobia in sports is not a Lehigh-specific issue, but that’s not an excuse to let it flourish on our campus. 

We owe it to this female athlete, to all LGBTQ+ members of Lehigh Athletics — past, present and future — to hold each other accountable and create a culture where who you love is never as important as who you are. 

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  1. Robert Davenport on

    This student athlete should have been treated with respect.

    I have talked with a parent of a non-LGBTQ+ female member of an Atlanta area college member of a soccer team who was harassed by LGBTQ+ members of the team and felt she had to leave the team.

    We do not know the details of the situation, particularly actions by the individuals that may have caused them to be not accepted.

    “We owe it to this female athlete, to all LGBTQ+ members of Lehigh Athletics — past, present and future — to hold each other accountable and create a culture where who you love is never as important as who you are.” The characterization of the problem at hand is discrimination of a “protected” group. The problem seemingly is bad behavior by both individuals and a group. Neither the individuals nor the group are the problem; the bad behavior is the problem.

    We owe it to all Lehigh athletes to create a culture of mutual respect and teamwork to achieve the best results possible for the team and for each individual on the team. We owe the same to all Lehigh students.

    With thanks to all of my survey party members from Surveying Camp (CE41-66). I’ve got your names and respect all of you for the tasks you helped to accomplish as well as the comradery.

  2. This is very sad and disturbing. My heart goes out to this student-athlete, who is brave to tell her story.The intolerance, bullying, and homophobia described are not confined to the athletic program – they pervade the entire campus. For some reason, Lehigh is on a lot of LGBTQ+-friendly lists – one factor being that the policies with respect to officially changing name and gender are quite flexible. And the Pride Center. But this recognition as “friendly” is not warranted – too many students come to Lehigh having already ingrained this intolerance, which they learn in their homes, friend groups, and communities, into their thinking – and just inflict their misbehavior on classmates such as the athlete interviewed. My distant transgender relative, who is applying to college and was interested in Lehigh because it was on a number of friendly lists, expressed interest in the school. Quickly told him, “NOOOOOOOOOO. Unfortunately, I do not have high hopes for change at Lehigh if even one’s teammates can be so cruel. I hope this student-athlete transfers and finds a place where she can be appreciated and treated with respect as she sounds like a very strong and thoughtful person. And I hope future LGBTQ+ applicants are not deluded into thinking that Lehigh is a place where they can be themselves and thrive.

  3. Embarrassed to Be Associated on

    Lehigh is a good place for you if you are White, American, heterosexual, middle-class, Christian, suburban, and a public (not specialized) high school grad without any particularly remarkable qualities, intellectual curiosity, or sophistication. For those of us who are ethnic or come from more or come from less or who are part of the LGBTQ community (even if just as an ally) or appreciate the arts or come from major cities or aren’t from the US or went to a different type of high school (prep school, specialized public, parochial), etc., prepare to feel marginalized. I am privileged in many senses and I acknowledge that fully, but never felt the school was a great match even though I had friends and social activities as a student. That being said, the people I spent the most time with had the same feelings about the place.

    Also, I had never heard someone use a racial slur before college and had a visceral reaction that I was not expecting that first time. I went to prep school and while the student body generally came from wealthy families (with the exception of some people on needs-based scholarships), proportionately, there was much more racial/ethnic diversity and even some gay/lesbian students and faculty who were very much out of the closet. It felt like the UN compared to Lehigh!!!

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