By Lauren Neidigh
You know how sometimes when you meet someone, and you just know you’re going to get along? I was getting on the bus at my first Nike LGBT Sports Summit when I knew that Stephanie Laffin was one of those people. The first thing I noticed was that she had a ton of energy. She was really excited to be there and to meet the people she would be working with. But I also saw that she was kind, caring and invested in what we were there to do at the summit. I really am glad that I got to know more about her and all that she does to make the world a better place.
Steph first got involved with the movement when she was living in New York and her boss lost his partner to AIDS. The Broadway community that she was involved in has an organization called Broadway Care that works to support AIDS research. After working with Broadway Care, she moved to Los Angeles and started to think more about what she wanted to do and how she wanted to get involved as an advocate.
While in L.A., her friends Dan Savage and Terry Miller started the It Gets Better project. Steph served on the board of It Gets Better from 2010 until the spring of 2015 and was part of a group responsible for keeping the project in motion. She worked to inspire others to help create change that would change the lives of LGBT youth.
Steph’s activism doesn’t end there. She’s also been a volunteer with Campus Pride, attending Camp Pride in the summers. There, she works with LGBTQ-identified college students from around the country, discussing social justice issues with some of the up and coming LGBTQ leaders. Steph believes that the next generation should be heard because what they do next will be important. “It’s not about me. I have to think, if I’m gonna’ be a leader in this space, how am I paying it forward,” she told me. That’s one of the best things about her. She thinks about others first. She wants to know how she can help them succeed now and in the future.
Talking with Steph the other day, we spoke about her goals for the LGBT movement. She wants to make sure that LGBT youth are heard and that we serve them, and she wants to create opportunities for them to see the difference that they’ve made. She wants to see more active resources in which LGBT youth can see the results happening. One of the examples she gave me was the Campus Pride Sports Index. She thinks Campus Pride has done an amazing job with the resource, as it helps LGBT student-athletes find colleges that are LGBT-friendly.
Steph also wants to increase inclusion for trans athletes. She sees that there are rules and systemic road blocks that need to change. “Being your authentic and whole self makes you a more effective athlete,” she said. She wants for us to be better for our trans and gender-non- conforming community members, committing more to creating safe spaces for them.
To Steph, inclusion in sports means creating a community. Through some of the experiences she’s had, she’s seen people build networks that will last a lifetime. That allows us to build each other up and find help whenever it’s needed. You find friends that you can count on and utilize.
She’s a big fan of one of Nike’s core values: “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” Believing in that saying, she also believes that no one should have their identity as an athlete taken away or go unrecognized because of their sexuality, gender identity or gender expression. She thinks about her younger cousins who are all involved in sports. She wants to see a world where they are able to play, no matter how they identify.
We’ve made progress for LGBT athletes in sports but there are still many challenges to face. People like Stephanie Laffin are here to help this next generation prepare for those challenges. She recognizes that there are so many things beyond marriage equality that we need to face.
As athletes, we make many sacrifices. There are time commitments, trips away from family and risk of injury among other things. Wouldn’t it be better if, in the sacrifices athletes make to reach their goals, they felt they could truly be their authentic selves? I think you should be able to cut your hair the way you want, wear what you want and do whatever you want to do.