Although the acoustics in Newman Arena made it hard for an eager audience to hear her, Megan Rapinoe made her message loud and clear at Cornell Athlete Ally’s event on Thursday: it’s okay to be gay.
“I’m comfortable being labeled as gay,” she said. “That sits well with me. … [But] you don’t have to be one thing or another, exactly this or exactly that.”
As a player on the U.S. women’s national soccer team and a midfielder for Seattle Reign, Rapinoe and her fellow teammates have seen a surge in popularity in recent years as more and more Americans have taken interest in soccer, due in part to the success of the women’s team. Rapinoe has used her fame to further her advocacy for LGBTQ rights, both within the world of sports and outside of it.
An ambassador for Athlete Ally — a nonprofit organization focused on ending homophobia in sports — Rapinoe travels to schools and college campuses across the country, speaking about how to end the stigma. Additionally, Rapinoe does work for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
“I have walked in your shoes, and walked the road ahead of you, and want you to know you will be okay, and you have more support than you ever dared to dream of,” Rapinoe said in an Athlete Ally webpost.
Not only did Rapinoe focus on her own coming out and how that affected her relationships with her teammates, but she also took the time to discuss what being an advocate and an ally means to her.
“[I want] for straight allies to take a second to think about it and have empathy and sympathy,” she said. “You don’t have to know everything we’re going through but I think you can empathize in a certain way and stand up in a way that’s really powerful. You don’t have to be gay to make a difference in the gay community.”
For Rapinoe, being openly gay as a professional athlete has not hindered her career in any significant way. However, she did take the time to discuss homophobia in the world of men’s sports and how it is still very much a problem, especially within the NFL.
“I think it’s gotten to the point where it is so generally accepted within the teams,” Rapinoe said. “Your normal life isn’t inhibited in any way being a female athlete and being gay in a lot of ways.”
Rapinoe also spoke about the problems women in soccer face, such as unequal pay and worse field conditions during practice as compared to the men.
“People at the top are making a choice for unequal conditions for men and women,” she said. “The men’s World Cup makes more money than the women’s World Cup [and] we’re not asking for the same salary but just something that is fair.”
While Rapinoe explained that she felt safe coming out to her teammates, she also acknowledged that she may have closeted teammates who aren’t coming out despite such an open culture amongst her squad.
“There’s always been gay players on the team and it’s been a pretty open and accepting culture the whole time,” she said. “There’s this element of being so open but also, why isn’t anyone else coming out?”
While Rapinoe’s family was ultimately supportive of her, she acknowledged that this is not the case for everyone, and that is why advocacy for LGBTQ issues remains important to her.
“There are so many avenues so even if your parents aren’t ok [with you being gay], the internet has resources, so seek that out,” she said. “A lot of people are in homes or communities that are homophobic or even violently homophobic … but there are so many avenues to seek out.”
To Rapinoe, coming out and supporting gay rights was not just important on a personal level, but also more broadly in helping others who are struggling to do so.
“It’s important to me, but it’s also important in a bigger level,” she said. “Being out is important.”