When Ariel Stephenson, a graduate student and member of George Washington University Colonials’ women’s basketball team, first arrived at her new school, she was prepared to continue hiding her bisexuality.
“It’s just something that was like, ‘Don’t talk about it,’ you know?” Stephenson says of the attitude expressed by past teammates and coaches. “But when I got here, it was almost embraced and welcomed, and they made it a point to make me understand that I don’t have to hide any part of myself. They ask about my girlfriend, and how she’s doing. They make it a point to talk to her after games, and just that makes me feel more comfortable in expressing this part of my life with them.”
The team has two out players and two out coaches, and the straight players are fully accepting. “It’s really, truly like a family,” she says. “We push each other. We all just kind of work together. We love one another, and at the end of the day, we know we all have each other’s backs.”
Kevin DeMille, an assistant coach, says the team is “really lucky that GW is a place that not only values that level of acceptance, but kind of demands it.”
DeMille, a member of the LGBTQ community, notes, “Our head coach is a mother, so she really values the importance of family and allowing young people to explore their identity and recognize who they are and celebrate who they are outside of the basketball court. It’s important for us to continue to allow them to grow as people and not just as basketball players.”
On Jan. 22, the team held its first-ever Pride Night during a game against the University of Dayton. Fans donned rainbow flags, multi-colored T-shirts, and other Pride-themed gear to express both their school pride and their support for the school’s LGBTQ athletes.
“It was a really good turnout,” says Stephenson. “The game didn’t turn out as we had hoped, but the environment and the atmosphere was really good…. Our goal is to do this every year, and we’re looking to expand on it…to a little bit more of an intellectual component, like a panel discussion about the existence of LGBTQ people in sports. We’re really excited to continue this conversation and to keep increasing the inclusion here at GW.”
For more information on the George Washington University’s women’s basketball team, including a schedule of games, visit www.gwsports.com/sports/womens-basketball. The team can also be followed on Twitter and Instagram at @GW_WBB.
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