The Fearless Project, a photography exhibit celebrating athletes who have come out about their homosexuality, will culminate today in a reception featuring four of the five Bowdoin athletes profiled in the exhibit.
“It’s important for all of us to be respectful of anyone that we may interact with,” said Tim Ryan, interim athletic director. “This is a way to draw attention to a segment of society that may not have received that treatment in the past, especially within the athletic community.”
The Fearless Project first came to Bowdoin three years ago, but members of the Department of Athletics and the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity thought its 2013 return would be even more effective as the exhibit now features five Bowdoin alums: Colin Ogilvie ‘12, Ben Chadwick ‘11, Shana Natelson ‘10, Lindsey Warren-Shriner ‘10 and Elsbeth Paige-Jeffers ‘10.
“It’s exciting to have alumni who are involved in the Fearless Project,” said Ryan. “It’s a great opportunity to bring people together from our community to support an issue that’s really gained a lot of momentum on campus.”
Kate Stern, director of the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, added that athletes do have homosexual peers, whether they realize it or not.
“I think it’s important for straight folks to see that there are LGBT athletes in our midst, and it’s okay,” said Stern.
Stern also said she hoped the exhibit would remind so-called closeted athletes that Bowdoin is an accepting and supportive environment in which to be an openly LGBTIQ athlete.
Student volunteers also supported the return of the exhibit.
“You see all these athletes who stop to read the stories and look at all the pictures,” said Lucy Morrell ’13, who works in the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. “That’s one of the biggest reasons why we brought it back, because it’s popular with students.”
Jeff Sheng, the exhibit’s creator and photographer, started the Fearless Project in 2003. Since then, the collection has grown to feature around 150 out athletes, and Sheng hopes to have the collection published as a book sometime within the next few years. He said he is also enthusiastic about the exhibit’s return to campus.
“It’s really an honor that they put the work back,” said Sheng. “I’m really excited that I was able to display the images of the athletes at Bowdoin.”
The project’s roots resonate with Sheng on a personal level.
“I played tennis in high school and I did not play in college,” said Sheng. “One of the reasons was that I didn’t feel comfortable coming out while I was on a varsity sports team.”
The Fearless Project was ultimately developed to prevent others from facing similar adversity. Sheng photographed athletes in between practices and workouts to emphasize their athletics rather than their sexuality.
“I think one of the powerful parts of the exhibit is that when people see the photographs, they realize that LGBTIQ identified athletes look just like other athletes,” said Sheng.
The images in the exhibit are meant to de-stigmatize gay athletes. Subjects are always photographed in their athletic gear staring straight into the camera.
“If you look at the pictures you’ll notice they look like strong athletes, and whether or not they look gay is secondary,” said Stern.
Last semester, Molly Burke ’13 directed a video for the You Can Play project, which aimed to raise awareness against discrimination based on sexual orientation in athletics. The video featured over 40 Bowdoin athletes and conveyed a message similar to that of the Fearless Project.
“The goal in general is to end homophobia in sports,” said Burke.
Burke noted a significant change in attitudes towards gay and lesbian athletes since the Fearless exhibit first came to Bowdoin in 2010.
“I think it changes a lot of people’s minds on how to approach the issue,” said Burke. “This is someone’s life, and the language you use in the locker room makes their time as an athlete and just as a person a lot more difficult.”
Burke and many others emphasized the power of photographs to convey an emotional argument like the one against homophobia in athletics.
“I think the photos are effective because you really feel for the athletes,” said Burke. “You can see their strength and their athleticism but also see how much courage it’s taken them to be in it.”
“The most powerful ones are the big pictures where you can look at a person and understand—without even having to read anything—how difficult it may have been for them to get to the point where they could show up in a shot like that,” said Morrell.
Photographs from the exhibit have been displayed in the Buck Fitness Center, Watson Arena and Farley Field House.
“It sends a powerful message about what’s important to members of our athletic department and our overall community to have the exhibit on display in Buck center and in other athletic facilities,” said Ryan.
The 2 p.m. closing reception will be held in the lobby of the Buck Fitness Center.