In 2005, Executive Director of the Christian Civic League of Maine Michael Heath visited campus, campaigning to overturn Maine’s recently passed sexual orientation anti-discrimination law. As a form of protest, students wore yellow shirts to the event.
Today, this lives on in the form of Yellow Shirt Day, when students, faculty and staff wear yellow shirts reading “Respect All Genders. All Sexualities.” as a sign of allyship. For athletes, these shirts are free. For non-athletes, the shirts must be purchased. We acknowledge the history of homophobia and transphobia in athletics and the value of making teams inclusive spaces. However, we believe that giving athletes free Yellow Shirts is not the most productive way to achieve this goal and instead diminishes the symbolic power of Yellow Shirt Day.
When we see someone with a Yellow Shirt, we initially think that they must stand by the shirt’s message. However, considering that every athlete gets one for free, we have to think twice. Queer students should not have to think twice.
When one section of the student body is handed Yellow Shirts for free, while the rest of the student body is asked to pay, the barrier to entry for this performance of allyship is unequal. Furthermore, Yellow Shirts let athletes mark themselves as allies when they might not be. It prevents the shirts from functioning as legitimate markers of allyship or even support.
In addition, it’s important to consider the reasons why some athletes end up wearing the shirts. Are they wearing it because they support the mission of Yellow Shirt Day or because the rest of their team is wearing the shirts? Is it a marker of allyship or athlete-ship? While we believe most athletes do support Yellow Shirt Day and the LGBTQIA+ community, they should have to show their support the same way the rest of us do—by purchasing a shirt.
Outside of Yellow Shirt Day, Bowdoin does promote inclusivity on athletic teams. Examples include the Winning Together dinner and a history of athletes being encouraged to attend Out Allies training. Instead of giving athletes free Yellow Shirts, the Athletics Department and the Center for Sexuality, Women and Gender should invest in more events like these. Instead of granting athletes easy recognition, these opportunities help students engage and truly consider how homophobia, transphobia and heteronormativity operate in athletics and create truly inclusive teams.
This dichotomy between easy, performative acts of support such as wearing a Yellow Shirt and meaningful acts of engagement is not restricted to athletes. All students should consider the ways in which they can employ more concrete forms of allyship. Therefore, we encourage students to attend OUTtober events including and beyond Yellow Shirt Day. On Tuesday night, Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance will be hosting a discussion about what it means to be an ally aside from wearing a Yellow Shirt. This event can springboard further action.
While queer students shouldn’t have to think twice about the reasons why someone is wearing a Yellow Shirt, students should be thinking twice about the ways which they show support.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Nell Fitzgerald, Dakota Griffin, George Grimbilas, Calder McHugh, Devin McKinney and Jessica Piper.