JULY 25, 2020 — Equality Coaching Alliance, an online support network for LGBT+ sports coaches, administrators and staff, was founded nine years ago as an outreach initiative of the Federation of Gay Games. At the time, the founder, FGG volunteer Roger Brigham, a longtime wrestling coach and sports columnist for the Bay Area Reporter, knew less than a handful of LGBT coaches who were out at work.
Today, the number of ECA members hit 1,000.
Brigham formed the idea for the group while he was volunteering on the FGG’s external affairs committee. There were numerous LGBT+ sports-focused groups that had either just begun or were forming in 2011, but Brigham noticed none of the were specifically designed for the sports professional who were mainstays in the industry and best positioned to help change sports policies and internal culture.
He reached out to former basketball coach Helen Carroll, who was director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights at the time, to discuss ideas for trying to connect coaches and set organizational goals. Brigham created the name, designed a logo, and launched a private group Facebook page, which remains the groups primary means of internal communications. ECA also has a public social media presence for more visibility and is in the process of launching a website.
ECA launched on May 26, 2011 with three members. Within five days, the membership was at 13.
“When Roger outlined this program, I was immediately excited,” Carroll said. “My hopes were to have a place where LGBTQ coaches who felt so isolated could meet each other and discuss their experiences, needs and of course, job difficulties and discrimination. Working for the NCLR, I felt it important for this group of talented coaches to understand there is a legal organization where they can go, pro bono, to seek legal help or a referral to an attorney that could help, advise or represent them in tricky job situations.”
From the beginning, the membership gender balance has hovered at right around 50 percent.
“Having equal gender representation was spoken of on Day One, and has been achieved in the very early days until now,” Carroll said. “I was a bit concerned that in the beginning there was not the representation of people of color as members and role models, but that changed quickly with several coaches stepping into the idea of ECA being the really first LGBT coaches organization working for equal representation of everyone. It appears this has happened. Voices must all be heard equally and leadership shared by all. Again, I see this happening and always being improved. Let’s keep working toward that and this group will continue to lead the way on the sports scene.”
Several ECA members are not out professionally. ECA gives them a safe place to be themselves and get advice from peers whether they plan to come out or not.
“I've noticed that coaches and sport professionals really appreciate a safe space to voice dialogue surrounding LGBTQ athletes while creating a diverse network around the world,” said Galen Dodd, a volleyball coach at Lewis University who has stepped up to lead the organization’s membership committee. “Many people we add have already shown themselves to be successful coaches or leaders in their industry. Joining ECA now gives them another tool in their toolbox to use.”
As this story was being written, Charley Sullivan, an ECA member who coaches rowing at the University of Kansas, was conversing with another Division I head coach who is preparing to come out.
“He could barely write the words five minutes ago, and now we’re talking about how dating works in public in the city where he lives and what he would do if one of his guys saw that. This is happening right now as I write this. We still have so few openly gay men coaching at the highest level. The barriers are so hard. ECA shows us that we’re not alone. Even if it’s just a series of posts we read daily in our Facebook feed.”
Many members have been active in informing peers about ECA, but none has been more active and successful at introducing new members than UCLA softball coach Kirk Walker, one of the first coaches to join.
“Recruitment of coaches and sports professionals begins with my reaching out to friends of ECA members on Facebook and introducing myself and the groups to them,” Walker said. “On a daily basis when I meet peers or sports professionals through my work with several sports organizations, I introduce them to ECA and encourage them to join if they are on Facebook. We have seen substantial introductions in recent years from current ECA members bringing peers or friends forward and connecting me with them.”
In recent months, ECA has developed a working relationships with GOSPACE, whose mission is focused on current and former LGBTQ student-athletes. Walker said the vast majority of ECA members were student-athletes before becoming sports professionals, so the cooperative relationship between ECA and GOSPACE provided mutual benefits, including the opportunity for athletes to get mentoring from coaches.
Outsports has also begun running features on many ECA members and their stories.
“With the partnership with Outsports, we now have more people that find out about ECA from the coming-out stories posted that now include mention of ECA in the footnotes,” Walker said.
So far, ECA has existed as an informal network with no official structure or bylaws. Having reached a critical mass of members, it is now poised to organize more formally as a non-profit organization, seek funding, and increase its workshop, policy and educational activities. Committees have formed and have been holding regularly scheduled online video meetings.
“There is great potential in the work coming out of the committees that could benefit from resources and funding in areas of education, internships, and forming a professional organization to influence hiring practices on campuses across the country,” Walker said. “The next major movement will be to solidify non-profit status. We have enough work to need to hire some staff to manage committees and administrative development. This will also allow revenue streams to create a platform independent of Facebook. We have hundreds of other contacts that are not able to join or follow because they are not on Facebook.”
People interested in ECA can visit the Equality Coaching Alliance Public Page on Facebook.