Congratulations go to swimmer Lauren Neidigh of the University of Arizona for receiving the 2015 Campus Pride Voice & Action Athlete Award for her efforts to gain LGBTQ equality within the university’s athletic department. She is a distance freestyler and butterflyer for the Wildcats swim team.
And how appropriate Voice & Action award is for Nedigh who, not long ago felt she couldn’t use her voice to tell the world who she really was – a gay athlete. And why? Because the message she’s lived with for so long was that to be gay was somehow wrong. She said “I felt lonely and terrified most of the time for many years of my life. I limited myself in my speech and actions because I was struggling to fit the norm standards set by society.”
Neidigh swam her first two years for the University of Florida where she says that some of the people she trained with were rather vocal in their negative perception of gay people. “I would think to myself, ‘If the people around me really hate gay people that much, could they be better off if I wasn’t here?’ “Deep down” she said, “I knew there was a huge part of me that they would probably never be OK with. It was painful to be around people that I cared for so much and to think that none of the good things mattered because if I were ever really being myself with them, I would cause them so much discomfort.”
After transferring to the University of Arizona, she came out to her teammates after the first semester there and found them all to be supportive. Now that she’s come out, she no longer has to pass up invitations to go out with friends, to distance herself from them lest they discover that she is gay and then have them pass judgment on her.
Recognizing that staying closeted was harming her health, she decided to share her coming out story on Outsports. Neidigh continues to urge other athletes to come out, saying that being openly out is a “slap in the face to those who are hateful” because it removes their power and control over the gay community.
The swimmer is also the director of social media for GO! Athletes. She has said, “You may not have realized it yet, but we need your help. Each one of us, even those who haven’t come out yet, is a unique piece of the LGBT sports movement. Being in the closet is like benching your best self. We need you first-string, because no one else can play your position.”
Campus Pride’s Voice & Action Athlete Award is presented to undergraduate student athletes from colleges and universities across the country. This award recognizes the contributions of young adult leaders and the indelible impact that their efforts have on the present and future of our fight for greater acceptance in sports. This award is in partnership with GO! Athletes and the StandUp Foundation. Last year, Campus Pride recognized Kye Alums with an honorary award.
Campus Pride’s mission is to build future leaders and safer, more welcoming campus communities. To learn more, got to CampusPride.org.
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