Lesbian Identity in Sports and Athletics

Smith College Project

At Smith College

At Smith College, located in a hotspot of lesbian culture and community, athletics and physical activity played a similar role in shaping lesbian identity, and student athletes faced the same issues of discrimination and homophobia that many professional athletes did. Although there was a lesbian presence on nearly every varsity and club sports team at Smith throughout 1970s and 1980s, there continued to be issues of homophobia from peer athletes and athletic staff. In 1986, Camille O’Bryant, a student athlete, submitted a letter of complaint to President Mary Maples Dunn regarding Mr. Fink, an administrator in the athletic department. Bryant and other students were concerned with Mr. Fink’s insensitivity toward lesbian student athletes and his blatant favoring of heterosexual athletes and staff members, as well as other issues. Because Mr. Fink was a tenured faculty member, it’s unclear if action was ever taken against him. The following documents demonstrate some of the complaints submitted to the Athletic Department as well as president Mary Maples Dunn.

Like many women’s sports teams, lesbian identity and culture was present on almost every team at Smith, including varsity and club sports. Club sports were particularly popular among queer-identified students and athletes, as the connection to the homophobic Athletic Department was limited. This program from a Celebration performance in the 1980s demonstrates the various athletic teams that lesbians and bisexuals were a part of, and the gallery below depicts the rugby team, a predominantly queer club sports team at Smith, throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

This program from a Celebration performance in the 1980s includes a poem performed by Tyler House. The poem lists the various identities held by students at Smith who identified as lesbian, bisexual, or queer. The list includes various athletic teams including softball, rugby, crew, equestrian, hockey, and basketball, highlighting the prevalence of queer identities on both varsity and club sports at Smith.

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