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Allyship or athlete-ship?

October 19, 2018

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

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. 


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  1. Erin McKissick '16 says:

    I appreciate the issues you’re raising here, and certainly agree that Yellow Shirt Day is not the be-all and end-all of allyship on campus. There are undoubtedly more effective ways to take action, more meaningful methods of demonstrating support, and queer students on campus should never have to question whether a yellow shirt wearer stands by the message they are supposedly promoting. However, there are a few points worth clarifying. When I organized Yellow Shirt Day in 2015, the Athletic Department paid for the shirts of those student-athletes who elected to wear them – as far as I know, students were never forced to wear a shirt (though perhaps they were encouraged). Team captains sent us a list of how many shirts to buy in each size, and certainly not every athlete on campus was included in the purchase. Hopefully this means that student-athletes who do not consider themselves allies to the queer community would have opted out of wearing a yellow shirt. Additionally, many other student organizations and departments on campus also purchased shirts for their students, meaning that athletes were by no means the only students who received shirts for free. This is a worthwhile discussion to be having, and I hope that these details help to put some of your points in context.

  2. ConcernedBowdoinSupporter says:

    Seriously, is this trite drivel going to go on all year? Two weeks of mindless, clichéd liberal cheerleading followed by this. Six editors on the Orient’s board, and something this petty and trivial is what is on their collective mind? Worse yet, as the commenter above points out, the authors don’t even have their facts straight. Nor have they backed up any of their assertions by actually talking to people. So now, like Roseanne Roseannadanna, it’s time for the board to say “Nevermind.”

    Oh, and lest we forget, civility doesn’t make history!

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