Colorado high schools working to welcome LGBT student athletes

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Photo: Micah Porter with student athletesGay athletes are making strides in professional sports: Michael Sam, the first openly gay active football player, is competing alongside other hopefuls for a spot on the Dallas Cowboys' roster. Adidas signed openly gay swimmer Tom Daley to be the face of its new clothing line.

And while acceptance of gay athletes is increasing nationally, officials in Colorado are working to create more acceptance of LGBT high school athletes, including developing specific guidance for schools that have transgender student-athletes trying to determine how those students should compete, whether on girls or boys teams. It's not clear yet to what extent the goal of inclusion is being reached.

Last year the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) challenged high school students, administrators, and coaches to make videos in partnership with You Can Play, a national organization "dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation." Several schools made videos, and some included players from the Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets, and other local teams. And CHSAA conducted training sessions for coaches across the state.

Just last week, CHSAA helped sponsor a gathering on the topic organized in part by Micah Porter, a running coach at D'Evelyn High School who came out a year ago and has become an advocate for LGBT athletes and coaches.

But while the conference brought in experts from around the country to talk about their own experiences and how to promote inclusion, attendance by Colorado's coaches and student athletes was low.

CHSAA associate commissioner Tom Robinson says he isn't surprised. "I think it’s not unusual that it was a low turnout. I think it’s just… we’re not quite there yet," Robinson says, adding that he thinks it will take more time -- perhaps "years" -- for students and coaches to feel comfortable coming out publicly.

Robinson says the efforts to create an atmosphere friendly to LGBT athletes continue this year, and are folded into CHSAA's broader focus on inclusion of all students, whether they're LGBT or part of another minority group.

While the LGBT inclusion efforts started in earnest last school year, the association started advising schools that have transgender student-athletes in 2010, helping them determine what sport the student-athletes can compete in, and what bathrooms or locker rooms they can use at school.

Bethany Brookens, an assistant commissioner at CHSAA, says Colorado's policy is to let transgender student athletes compete as members of whatever gender they self-identify. That makes the state unique from others, and from the NCAA, which governs sports at the college level. Brookens recently made a presentation to colleagues from other states, some of whom are struggling with state laws that require student athletes to compete in sports based on the gender on their birth certificates, Brookens says.

Brookens says it's most important that LGBT students' privacy is protected. "If there's a transgender athlete particiapting on a basketball team," Brookens says, "the other school probably shouldn't, or wouldn't even know about it."