Despite a growing number of athletes coming out as LGBTQ in college, fewer than 3% of NCAA D-I athletes compete in departments that fully protect their LGBTQ identities. LGBTQ youth are also twice as likely to quit sports altogether compared to their cisgender and straight peers to quit sports.
Those statistics are in part why Athlete Ally launched its Athletic Equality Index (AEI) in 2017. The AEI is an ongoing assessment of National Collegiate Athletic Association athletic departments’ policies and practices around LGBTQ inclusion. The report provides a comprehensive look at how NCAA D-I athletic departments are supporting LGBTQ student-athletes, coaches, administrators, staff, and fans.
Out of the 353 schools examined only 10 scored 100 on the 2020 AEI. They are: The Ohio State University, Boston University, Kent State University, University of Miami, University of Southern California, University of Arizona, George Mason University, University of California at Davis, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Pennsylvania. The conference with the highest AEI scores as of March 2021 is the PAC-12 with an average of 68.8.
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Anna Baeth, director of research for Athlete Ally, says the goal isn't to call the NCAA schools out, but rather assist them in providing a more inclusive environment for its most vulnerable students.
In compiling its ranking Baeth says they consider a number of factors, including a nondiscrimination statement from the athletic department that they are inclusive to the LGBTQ community; a trans inclusion policy which includes a stated commitment to supporting athletes either as they transition while they're at their institution or if they transition before they become a student-athlete at the institution, a sexual assault or harassment policy; and lastly a fan code of conduct that bans homophobic and trans phobic language in the stands.
Among their key findings:
- Despite a growing number of athletes coming out as LGBTQ+ in college less than 3% of NCAA D-I athletes compete in departments that fully protect their LGBTQ+ identities.
- 92% of Division-1 athletic departments don’t have fully inclusive trans athlete policies.
- When LGBTQ+ educational resources are available, LGBTQ+ student-athletes and staff can seek resources and support without fear of repercussions. Yet, 70% of Division-I athletic departments do not offer any resources.
- Of over 9,000 sport fans surveyed, the majority believed spectator stands were the most dangerous and unwelcoming of all places for LGBTQ+ people in sports. Still, a vast majority of D-I athletic departments (80%) do not have a fan code of conduct or guide for fan behavior of any kind.
"We're really looking for the athletic department to create a space where people can have a conversation around LGBTQ inclusion," says Baeth. "I think when people know better, they do better, and I find often that when I talk with athletic departments about the AEI and about their scoring, most people are very passionate about this topic. They want to create spaces where their athletes feel welcome, invited, included."