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WASHINGTON—The nonprofit advocacy group Athlete Ally intends to do for college athletics what the Human Rights Campaign has done for corporate America: force compliance with LGBT demands.
The group in September launched the Athletic Equality Index. It scores 65 Division I schools on a 100-point scale that measures how friendly the schools are to LGBT issues. Athlete Ally hopes eventually to rank all 1,281 NCAA member schools, publicize their rankings, and use pressure to force compliance.
Athlete Ally sent schools in the NCAA’s Power Five conferences an initial index score on Aug. 21 and gave athletic departments until Sept. 5 to provide feedback. Scores went public on Sept. 12. A handful of schools appealed and successfully wrangled higher initial scores.
Only two schools scored a perfect 100—Stanford and the University of Southern California. Overall, Pac-12 schools were the most LGBT-friendly, averaging 79.9 out of 100. The Southeastern Conference was least LGBT-friendly, with an average ranking of 56.7. Baylor’s statement supporting a Biblical view on marriage and sexuality earned it a -45 score.
‘When you look at the Corporate Equality Index, it has been extremely successful in moving corporate America forward on their LGBTQ policies. If we can in any way attempt to do the same thing in athletic communities … I think we’ll have done a real service to the culture of sports.’ —Hudson Taylor
Athlete Ally ranked schools based on publicly available information about nine criteria, which include: whether schools have schoolwide nondiscrimination policies, openly LGBT staff, pro-LGBT resources for student-athletes, LGBT interest groups, promotion of LGBT pride events, partnership with LGBT organizations, and policies that include transgender athletes.
Some athletic departments across the country complained about the methodology. “If you’re a researcher and you’re reading that index and you see how they gathered their information, I think a lot of red flags would go up,” said Iowa State’s Patrice Ayeni.
The NCAA has been pushing member schools to become more LGBT-friendly. Its website offers “best practice” documents for schools to use, but the organization doesn’t require them. NCAA spokeswoman Gail Dent said in an email that Athlete Ally helped the NCAA develop those documents, but the Athletic Equality Index is independent of the NCAA.
Although college athletics departments still retain the freedom to develop their own policies, Athlete Ally hopes to bring economic and public pressure against schools with low scores—just as the Human Rights Campaign has used economic pressure and shame against corporations that haven’t toed the LGBT line (see “Casting corporate bread upon the waters,” Oct. 14).
“When you look at the Corporate Equality Index, it has been extremely successful in moving corporate America forward on their LGBTQ policies,” Hudson Taylor, Athlete Ally’s executive director, told me. “If we can in any way attempt to do the same thing in athletic communities … I think we’ll have done a real service to the culture of sports.”
The shaming seems to be working. Before the September release of the index, only three schools had adopted the NCAA’s pro-transgender recommendations. Today, nine schools have.
Taylor said he intends to release a new Athletic Equality Index at the beginning of each school year, expanding it to include more Division I schools and eventually including Division II and III institutions, which include many faith-affiliated schools.