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.