Fear, Pride, or Acceptance?

Because you are taking the time to read this, you’ve felt the pain of being judged.

No matter how many times you’ve told yourself that other people’s opinions about you do not signify who you are, at one time or another, you’ve allowed the hatred behind cruel words to slice you into an emotional wreckage. I understand your pain. I was fired from my position as the assistant national team coach, because I was vocal about my coach sexually harassing me. The response from the United States Team Handball Federation was that my coach couldn’t possibly sexually harass me, because I was a lesbian.

Inside the Office of Civil Rights litigation room, the Federation lawyers wounded me with their words, making certain I knew that if I continued the lawsuit against my coach that they would announce my sexual orientation to the media. Maybe that doesn’t sound so awful to you today, but in 1988 if you were a known homosexual, you would never be able to coach on a high school or college campus.

Coaching was my lifelong dream.

Parents of high school and college athletes thought that you would turn their child into a lesbian. Yep, I possessed a magic homosexual wand, which upon my incantations would “turn” young women into loving other women.

NOT!

But the strange thing was that people once believed that I could!

They believed I was a horrible human being incapable of normal human emotions. We’ve come a long way since those days, yet LBGTQ people are still being judged for their sexual orientation. The moment we stop educating people about who we are—our connection to them and their human frailty—is the moment that the recognition and acceptance we have achieved will slide backwards.

There are still people who see us as dirty, sinners, scum of the earth, and sexual predators.

The reason they see the LGBTQ community this way is because they don’t know who we are. We are as diverse, complicated, soulful, and emotional as they are. We have families, values, jobs, friends, children, and feelings. Yes, we have feelings. People who don’t know us, judge us, because it is easier to judge from a distance. More than that, they have been taught that judging another human being is okay and even righteous. 

I was fired from my assistant national team coaching position in 1988, because I was courageous enough to stand up against the head coach who was sexually harassing me. BUT I wasn’t strong enough to remain in the lawsuit when I knew that my personal life would be exposed. Afraid of hatred, judgment, vengeance, and most of all, the fear of not being able to do what I loved the most—coaching—made me retract the lawsuit.

I am thankful for those noble LGBTQ people before me and behind me who had the strength to stand up for their rights, to walk holding hands in cities, malls, and restaurants, and who have advocated for the right to be recognized as marriage partners. When I was a teenager, there were no television characters who were gay. If an actor or singer was gay, they hid their personal lives. I had no role models to let me know that I was okay.

My father disowned me.

Friends abandoned me.

For two years the only way I could date a woman was to get drunk enough, so that I could blame my actions on alcohol.  

I was ashamed and embarrassed that I loved other women. I couldn’t even say the word, “lesbian.” The word sounded dirty to me. I thought about suicide. I held a gun under my chin with my finger on the trigger more than once. There are still young LGBTQ people out there who feel judged, hated, and wounded, and who turn to drugs, alcohol, or cutting, because they don’t know that they are okay. Some of those people will pull the trigger.

My prayer for us is that we continue to learn to love and accept ourselves so that we will not allow the judgment of the ignorant to determine our happiness or worthiness.

Coach Winn is a Two-Time Olympian and an Award-Winning Speaker and Author, who speaks on diversity, leadership, team building, and communication. Her diversity speech is titled: “From Tailspin to Olympian: A Made-For-TV Movie That Was My Real Life.” You can find her at www.CoachWinnSpeaks.com or contact Metropolis Management at 877-536-5374.

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