The life of a LGBTQ college athlete

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Back to Article

The life of a LGBTQ college athlete

PHOTO BY VIVIAN YEN/THE PIONEER

PHOTO BY VIVIAN YEN/THE PIONEER

PHOTO BY VIVIAN YEN/THE PIONEER

By William Barnett, CONTRIBUTOR

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In the Bay Area, while more liberal than other places in the United States, there are still issues when it comes to accepting certain groups of people. People of color still experience police brutality, income inequality separates the various communities, and the LGBTQ community are constantly being berrated for who they choose to love. For those coming to the Bay Area for the first time, it may not be what they expected.
California State University, East Bay’s openly gay sophomore and women’s golf athlete Vivian Yen has experienced first hand how a change in location can change how someone feels about themselves.
Growing up in Taiwan, Yen was part of a community that wasn’t very accepting of LGBTQ people.
“Taiwan is really traditional. Most families wouldn’t accept if their kids were gay,” Yen said in an interview.
Yen first realized she was gay quite young but chose to hide it from her family for fear of being judged or criticized.
“I think I knew I was gay in middle school. I hid it from my family for a while because, at the time, it was still not acceptable. My family knows now, and my mom and aunts are okay with it,” Yen said.
At the start of high school, Yen made the decision to move to South Carolina to attend school in hopes of bettering her chances at a golf scholarship to attend college in the United States. To Yen’s surprise, the people in South Carolina were accepting of her.
“In South Carolina, everyone was more accepting of me being gay,” she said.
Coming to CSUEB from South Carolina, Yen again had to adapt to a new type of culture and waited to see if people accepted her. Thankfully, Yen has enjoyed her experience so far at CSUEB.
“Here at CSUEB, people are more accepting of gay people. I came here with short hair, so I think people didn’t feel like they needed to ask or feel surprised if I was gay,” Yen explained.
Assistant CSUEB Women’s Golf Coach Mario Castellanos says that the golf program and athletics department always tries to make sure that anyone, including those in the LGBTQ community, feels welcome and safe.
“We have always run the program with the view and understanding that everybody is equal,” said Castellanos in an interview. “We will always be accommodating to members of the LGBTQ community and all other communities in this program and in the department of athletics as a whole.”
Castellanos believes that part of being a coach is helping athletes grow as people. This includes putting them in an environment where they can thrive.
“The only way we can help them be “better” is to push them to be better students, better athletes, and to continue to grow as people with a mind for giving back to their community,” Castellanos said.
Compared to men’s golf, the Ladies Professional Golf Tour has been relatively forward-thinking in areas related to the LGBTQ community. So far there has not been an openly gay male professional golfer. However, there have been at least 14 openly gay women golfers on the LPGA Tour.
It appears that the golfing world is also firmly behind the rights and just treatment of the LGBTQ community. In 2005, a small group of the LGBTQ community began hosting the German Rainbow Open. The Rainbow Open is an annual tournament in Germany that is held solely for LGBTQ members of the golfing world. The tournament is now in it’s 14th consecutive year.
As a college golfer, Yen is constantly traveling around the state of California and the rest of the United States. However, Yen says so far she has been accepted everywhere she has visited.
“I don’t think I’ve traveled to a state that isn’t as accepting of the LGBTQ community. If I did, people were still nice to me,” said Yen.
The NCAA has also attempted to help improve the student-athlete experience for members of the LGBTQ community. In 2012, the NCAA released its resources document for the LGBTQ community titled “Champions of Respect.” The documented highlighted the NCAA’s support for LGBTQ athletes in college sports programs around the country.
The NCAA highlights the importance of the inclusion of LGBTQ athletes and the ways they are trying to help make this happen. The NCAA has provided guides for coaches and athletes to help create a positive environment where members of the LGBTQ community feel welcomed and safe. The NCAA has also encouraged that on-campus LGBTQ organizations work with their athletic departments to create a relationship between the LGBTQ community on campus and athletic programs at the school.
However, Yen says she is unaware of the resources that the NCAA has attempted to provide.
“I didn’t know that the NCAA had resources or an LGBTQ community,” Yen said.
At the beginning of each year, players are sat down by their coaches to review the mandatory NCAA rules and resources available to student-athletes. However, it appears that the notion of LGBTQ support is never addressed in these meetings but rather assumed that this is what is expected.
It seems though, for Yen, CSUEB is the perfect place for her to develop as a proud member of the LGBTQ community and a college athlete.
Yen and the rest of the CSUEB Women’s Golf team will continue their Fall season at the Sonoma State Fall Invitational on Oct. 13th where they look to find some form before the Division II Regional Preview in La Costa, CA. at the end of the month.