By Wade Davis
When it comes to LGBT Sports Inclusion, a name you should know is Anna Aagenes. Behind the bright smiles and underneath the blond, red or brown hair beats the heart of a gentle warrior for justice. Self-identified as bisexual, Anna’s journey to self-love and acceptance has been filled with moments of great self-discovery, powerful mentorship and a passion for truth.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Anna’s childhood was filled with many triumphs athletically and academically, yet all the while she suffered silently with depression. Starting in elementary school, Anna battled on and off with depression, always facing it alone. Not fully understanding her condition or feeling safe enough to talk to others about what she was going through, in typical Anna fashion she educated herself on what depression is, learning how to deal with it by putting herself through her own version of self-help therapy.
While studying mental health, Anna learned that many people dealing with depression still maintained high-functioning lives. What she found especially frightening was that many choose to suffer in silence because of the stigma and shame around being labeled as having a mental health issue.
Today Anna talks openly about her past battles with depression to shed light on an issue that so many people, especially athletes, don’t want to discuss for fear of being perceived as weak. Weakness is not something that Anna runs from anymore. She actually embraces and challenges whether words like “weakness” or “queer” are words that anyone should run from at all. A Division I NCAA track and field athlete while a student at Pennsylvania University, the only running Anna does now is on the track or treadmill.
As she began to understand her own sexuality, even attending her prom with another girl, many labeled her as a lesbian. Yet that label didn’t feel right to her. And when she dated men, many started to wonder if she was just confused about her sexuality. But Anna remained steadfast and resisted all labels until she was ready to identify herself as a bisexual woman. A label that she names and proclaims loudly in order to add visibility for a marginalized group under the LGBT umbrella that no one really talks about.
“I used to pray that I could just be a lesbian,” Anna explained, “because the label of being bisexual or not labeling yourself at all, was just not an option.” Now Anna stands firmly in her own truth as a bisexual woman. She loves her identity and understands that when people ask questions about her sexual orientation, everyone, including Anna, grows from the interaction.
When talking about her current and future goals, one must first look at Anna’s past to understand where she is going and where her passions lay. In January of 2008 Anna, along with six other former and current LGBT athletes, started the organization GO! Athletes, a support network for past and current LGBTQ collegiate and high school athletes.
Now, as the current vice president of operations for the You Can Play Project, an organization dedicated to ending LGBT bias in sports, Anna is looking to further interrogate the issue of gender in sports, including examining the intersection of gender, economic inequality, race and sexual orientation. As she channels the writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, she explains, “I want to talk about race with people who ‘think’ they are white and discuss racial injustices with those who haven’t experienced it to help them see how we are all connected and how categories still allow us to not see each other as one.”
Anna Aagenes is not stopping at ending LGBT bias in sports, she is looking toward equality on a myriad of issues. And one can only imagine how the world will look once she’s done painting it all with love.
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