Hudson Taylor Mission Possible
By Cyd Zeigler
While religion pervades the households of many Americans, Hudson Taylor experienced it on quite a different level. His great-great-great grandfather, James Hudson Taylor, was a Christian missionary in 19th-century China. Historians say he was responsible for the conversion of more Christians than anyone since the apostle Paul.
Now Taylor is on a conversion mission of his own. In 2010, as a star wrestler in his senior year at the University of Maryland, he put a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his headgear to take a quiet stand against homophobic language in sports. Since then, he has started Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization encouraging high school and college athletes, coaches, and athletic departments to pledge to fight homophobia.
"There are a lot of ways you can be an ally, but for what I'm aiming at in sports, it's a pretty simple equation: making the sports community more respectful simply by being conscious of your words," he says.
Taylor's fiancée, Lia Alexandra Mandaglio, is strongly behind his advocacy. It was she who encouraged Taylor to wear the HRC sticker, helping him surmount his initial concern about what his teammates might think.
Photographed by Richard Phibbs | Styling by Grant Woolhead
"That was one of the major obstacles that I had to overcome. If somebody thinks I’m gay, and it’s a negative thing to them, how is that enough of a fear when you could potentially save somebody’s life or make someone feel comfortable joining an athletic team? I’m OK with people thinking I’m gay, because I know I’m doing the right thing."
Despite his family history, Taylor struggles with religion. He regularly encounters athletes who claim they can’t be allies because homosexuality conflicts with their Christian beliefs. Taylor, who now considers himself agnostic, focuses on educating them about the power of words: If they believe being gay is a sin, they can still be mindful of the language they use that drives gay people away from sports and toward suicidal thoughts.
Taylor and Mandaglio, who will marry this September, struggle with the idea that they are free to marry wherever they like, while many of their gay and lesbian friends are not. While they both live in New York, they are marrying in Washington, D.C., in acknowledgement of the District’s legalization of gay marriage.
"It's not perfect," says Taylor, "but the D.C. law is respectful of what we are trying to do."