Temple’s administration has claimed that an important factor affecting its decision to cut seven sports on Dec. 6 was the university’s compliance, or lack thereof, with Title IX. The title requires that athletic scholarship money be divided to reflect the gender proportions of the student body. Before the cuts, just 42 percent of athletic aid went to women, who make up more than half of Temple’s undergraduates.
However, cutting five men’s sports may not actually make Temple’s athletic programs more accessible across the board.
Temple’s men’s gymnastics team, which will lose its Division I sponsorship as of July 1, provided a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere to gay athletes – part of the student population that appears to have been overlooked in regards to the recent cuts, and is consistently overlooked at the national level.
Evan Burke, a 2013 Temple alumnus who was on the team for five years, recently wrote an article for Outsports.com that reflected his positive experience with being a gay athlete on the gymnastics team.
“[Being homosexual] was just never an issue,” the former kinesiology major told The Temple News. “They met guys I’d be dating, I’d go on double-dates with some of them. It was kind of like just being a family rather than a team.”
Clay Stewart, a 2007 graduate with a degree in finance, felt similarly.
“We got along so great,” Stewart said. “It was a respectful environment.”
Within the atmosphere of TUMG, sexuality simply did not matter, multiple athletes said. And because the team had several openly gay members, it was recognized across Philadelphia for its tolerance.
“Instinct Magazine, Philadelphia Gay News, Outsports, so many publications have covered our experience, so we’ve proven how accepting Temple is in general,” Burke said.
“The Equality Forum would extend tickets for us for free to go to dinners,” Stewart said. He added that the entire team, which encompassed politically conservative and religious views, accompanied him to LGBTQ events. In addition, Stewart has spoken at human sexuality classes at Temple.
Gymnastics is far from the only sport that gay athletes participate in, but cutting a D-I team that was not only accepting and respectful, but also recognized outside of Temple for being such, will have a lasting impact on the LGBTQ community at large.
“You’re taking away the opportunity of bringing kids to Temple, and people know they’re accepting of LGBT students,” Burke said.
“Any time we see athletes openly out, it’s a good thing for any environment,” Stewart said.
What kind of message does cutting a program like this send to incoming LGBTQ freshmen? Where does cutting our LGBTQ-friendly programs leave students like Stewart, who only knew what Temple was because of the men’s gymnastics team?
While President Theobald strived to promote equal opportunity, he neglected a vital and vibrant part of not only Temple’s community, but also the city’s community at large.
To some, the men’s gymnastics team is just one team of seven that will not be returning next year. But to many, an important and iconic facet of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community will be lost forever.
Grace Holleran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @coupsdegrace.