The Clemson University Athletics Department is perhaps best known for their three-time national champion football program, but the department has been making headlines of a different sort recently.
In October, it debuted the My Story Matters program, which used the various social media platforms of the school’s athletics department to amplify voices of LGBTQ+ athletes and coaches.
“I’ve been a coach for 22 years — at eight different institutions — and I’ve NEVER experienced anything like this,” women’s basketball assistant coach Shimmy Gray-Miller wrote to Outsports.
In total, nine athletes and coaches shared their stories via videotaped interviews.
The 8-1 women’s basketball team had the greatest representation of any sport, with one assistant coach, Shimmy Gray-Miller, and two players, Tylar Bennett and Shania Meertens.
Meertens and Bennett shared contrasting stories of coming out. Meertens talked of the strain it had placed on her relationship with her parents, and how she intends to use her voice to bring about change and support others.
Meanwhile, Bennett spoke of how she was initially apprehensive about coming out to her mother, describing the anticipation as “nerve-wracking, and everything you would think of, tense, sweating, biting nails.”
In the end, it turned out she had nothing to fear as her mom was “just so open and loving” and it changed nothing between the two, saying she was “the same old Tyler to her.”
Bennett also echoed the feelings of countless others when she said the whole process of coming out “is just something that should be normalized” and adding it’s “just a part of my identity, it’s just a part of who I am.”
Clemson University is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Clemson, South Carolina. The state is deeply conservative and the local culture may have contributed to the lack of male athletes and coaches participating in the program.
Still, the fact that the program exists can be seen as progress. And we love progress!