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Haverford's Women's Lacrosse Team at their April 2023 Play with Pride game. Photo courtesy of Anna Bradley ‘24.

Play with Pride Brings LGBTQIA+ Awareness into Athletic Spaces, Greater Community

Haverford’s Play with Pride club was founded in 2021 with the mission of turning athletics into a more inclusive space for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, by aiming to provide a space for members to discuss their experiences, struggles, and achievements as LGBTQIA+ student athletes. Since then, the program has soared to new heights, promoting acceptance at Haverford. In June 2023, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQIA+ civil rights organization in the country, formally declared a state of emergency for LGBTQIA+ individuals for the first time in its nearly 40-year history, prompted by a surge in anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation targeting the community across various state houses that year. Following the nationwide rise in homophobia and transphobia, the club expanded their mission, and began focusing on advocacy and awareness in addition. “I grew up in an environment that wasn’t exactly welcoming to who I am. As a kid, constantly hearing derogatory things about my community thrown around at sporting events told me that I and people like me did not belong in that space. But we absolutely do.” Play with pride Co-Head Mary Smith ‘25 said.

The organization’s most visible and well-known initiatives are the  Play with Pride Games, the first of which was hosted in 2022 by Women’s Lacrosse. Since then, the initiative has blossomed, and now sees the participation of every athletic team on campus. On game days, Play with Pride representatives set up tables providing information about the program, snacks such as fruit arrangements and water ice, and pride stickers. Student athletes are provided with pride ribbons and tape to show support during their games. “It’s something that we try to do to make everyone who plays every sport to feel like ‘yes you are safe and yes this space belongs to you’,” Smith said.

Field hockey sticks with pride tape. Photo courtesy of Anna Bradley ‘24
A Play with Pride table outside of the Calvin Gooding ’84 Arena. Photo courtesy of Anna Bradley ’24

Play with Pride hosted two Pride Week events during the fall semester, with another event planned for this spring. The spring Pride games will take place across two weeks in late March, with accompanying activities such as trivia held throughout the week, culminating in a speaker presentation focused on LGBTQIA+ identity in sports. Notable past guests include former United States Women’s National Team member Lori Lindsey and professional baseball player Bryan Ruby. “We are the first school and organization to host an Athletics Pride Week in the entire NCAA organization,” said Smith. “Our athletics conference, Centennial Conference, won NCAA [LGBTQ] Conference of the Year last year in no small part to our club.”

This winter, Play with Pride is collaborating with long-time advocate and You Can Play Project ambassador Scott Laughton of the Philadelphia Flyers to offer the opportunity for club members to attend Flyers games free of charge. Members also get to meet Laughton in the Flyers locker room following the final whistle. The NHL made national news last October following their decision to implement a ban on pride-related gear, including the immensely popular pride tape that players regularly used during games. Following player pushback, including from Laughton, the ban was lifted just one week later.

Currently, the club is working with Athletic Director Danielle Lynch on reworking the NCAA Division III “One Team” training curriculum to more adequately represent the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community. The training, which is provided for all Division III athletic programs, but mandatory at Haverford College, is intended  to educate coaches, players, and staff on best practices and language for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and provide resources for members of the community to utilize within the athletic department. “This training is inadequate in the present day, poorly managed, is only given to Division III, and isn’t even required for those schools to go through the training,” Smith said.

“Athletics should be a place where everyone has the possibility to succeed, regardless of who they are,” stated Smith. “Homophobia runs rampant in all levels of athletics; from the professionals to college to youth sports, it has never been a place for people like me. So if I can change that for a tiny corner of the suburbs of Philadelphia, I can tell some kid in the stands at one of our pride games that yes, you do belong here, and yes you can succeed here.”

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