Representatives from more than 60 organizations, including 14 NFL teams, assembled at the Vikings facility in Eagan on Thursday for the first LGBTQ summit held by an NFL team.
Approximately 150 people gathered in the auditorium of the TCO Performance Center to hear panel discussions on how best to promote an inclusive atmosphere for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer athletes, and listen to stories of coming out from current and former gay or trans athletes and coaches such as former Vikings defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo and Olympic diver Greg Louganis.
The Vikings organized the summit in part to fulfill a settlement reached with former punter Chris Kluwe, an outspoken ally of LGBTQ people who threatened to sue the team in 2014 after special teams coordinator Mike Preifer used anti-gay language.
“I wish it was all the teams [that were here] but I think it’s a good start,” Kluwe said. “Especially if even four or five of those teams go back and do something with it, that’s four or five more teams than we had in the entirety of the NFL. This is one of the things where I think once teams understand why this is an important issue and how it benefits them to deal with LGBTQ rights … I think we’ll see some serious change and adoption of policy happening.”
Also in attendance were representatives from the Wild, Lynx and Timberwolves and the University of Minnesota.
Kluwe spoke on one of the panels and discussed how straight athletes can mend the alienation LGBTQ athletes feel at all levels, not just in professional sports. Kluwe and Hudson Taylor, the founder of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit that works to eliminate homophobia in sports, emphasized a theme throughout the five sessions: that language matters and enforcing policies that say homophobic language isn’t welcome on a team can help alleviate the pressure and anxiety LGBTQ athletes feel.
“I was taught to use homophobic language to diminish my peers,” said Taylor, a former wrestler.
“I think that goes on in locker rooms around the country. … We all need to do a better job of saying what’s acceptable, what behaviors and language are acceptable.”
Other panels included Louganis, trans athlete Chris Mosier and women’s soccer player Joanna Lohman sharing their life experiences. Openly gay Butler linebacker Xavier Colvin and his defensive coordinator, Joe Cheshire, discussed how they navigated Colvin’s coming out to his teammates.
Officials from the NFL and NCAA shared ways their organizations are trying to promote atmospheres of inclusion.
Mosier said the goal in sports is not to have everybody who is LGBTQ publicly reveal their sexuality but rather be “in spaces where they can fully be themselves.”
“You never know what people will hear and how it will impact them …” Mosier said. “When young people see you can be your authentic self and still play sports, it opens up a whole new world for them.”
Several panelists remarked on the importance of simply having the event, which Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren has said is not just a one-off occasion. The team plans on having events like Thursday’s summit in future years.
“You have to take steps or have to start a conversation, and I think the Vikings doing this sends an important signal in sports and in football to fans and athletes alike,” said Brian Kitts, a co-founder of You Can Play, an organization that supports LGBTQ athletes.
“Consistency and patience are key to this. This is a long game, and it’s easy to expect immediate change. These sorts of things take years, but nothing happens until you have that first conversation.”
Kluwe was hopeful the attendees would take the suggestions and advice the panelists offered back to their respective organizations — especially those in authority positions.
“The problem is what do those in power do when these issues come up?” Kluwe said. “If the people in power are OK with it, we can have this conversation.”