Kena Gilmour is a former conference player of the year. He was a captain of his college basketball team. He lead his team in scoring each of his last three seasons, and he was out to his team since late in his freshman year.
Now Gilmour has been named the first NCAA Division III LGBTQ Athlete of the Year, thanks to a new awards program from the OneTeam initiative.
Gilmour said the award is a reflection not just of his willingness to be out and proud for most of his college career, but also the people who have supported him the whole way.
“For me it is symbolic of my own personal journey and the support I’ve had from the community I’ve been in, my friends, the coaching staff, even the athletic director, especially early on,” Gilmour told Outsports. “I think it’s a testament to the Hamilton athletic community being inclusive, and my friends and teammates and family allowing me to succeed athletically.”
Gilmour came out to his team after his freshman season, during which he was the second-leading scorer on the team.
He said he initially came out to upperclassmen around whom he felt most comfortable, and then slowly came out to the rest of the team. While some may have been a little uneasy at first, he never felt rejection and quickly found total acceptance.
“It wasn’t something that was comfortably talked about by everyone right away, but everyone was inclusive,” he said, adding that he never experienced any instance of rejection from his teammates or coaches.
“And by my junior year everyone felt comfortable about it and I felt really included. For a lot of the team it was definitely a first for them, but there were never feelings of homophobia and exclusion. And I think it opened everyone up to the idea that, I can have a captain who’s gay and sexuality isn’t going to be any detriment to his leadership.”
He felt he was also respected by his opponents, as he said he never felt he was the target of overt homophobia.
The accolades for Gilmour are hard to keep up with. A few: His freshman year he was conference rookie of the year; His junior year he was the 2019 NESCAC player of the year and named All-America by coaches and D3hoops.com, when he recorded 18.9 points (top 100 in the country) and 5.9 rebounds per game; His senior season he averaged 22 points per game, which was top-30 in the country and led the conference; He was on the NABC Northeast District First-Team twice and Player Of The Year once; He’s fifth all-time on the Hamilton scoring list.
In addition, he was the 2020 winner of the prestigious Jostens trophy, which the NESCAC describes as “a national award created by the Rotary Club of Salem and takes into account basketball ability, academic prowess, and community service.”
Gilmour said that before he came out to his team he definitely heard some gay slurs tossed around the locker room. After he came out to them, his team respected him, learned quickly what those slurs meant, and he never heard a slur again for the rest of his three years with the team.
“I don’t think that language [before I came out] was derogatory, that was just them being dumb or tough.”
Gilmour grew up in New Paltz, N.Y. If that sounds familiar to some, that’s where, in 2004, when Gilmour was just a boy, mayor Jason West performed same-sex marriage ceremonies, defying state law.
Before he came out to his family, friends, coaches and teammates, he would routinely visit Outsports to see the latest stories about LGBTQ athletes being their true selves. He said that seeing those stories of other athletes helped give him the confidence that he would be accepted by his teammates, and that he was part of a larger LGBTQ sports community.
“It made me realize my experiences weren’t isolated and that I was part of a collective,” he said. “Even though I didn’t know these people, I knew whatever I was going through I wasn’t alone in it. And that’s my motivation in sharing my story. I want to make it easier for the next person, specifically the next person of color, to know they’re not alone.”
He saw the power of the Outsports motto — Courage Is Contagious — and now Gilmour wants to share his story to help other LGBTQ athletes find the courage to be their true selves in their own situations.
“Finding a way to let younger people in the community know they can still be the best player they want to be, that this isn’t going to sacrifice their ability, that’s important.”
Now, post-graduation, Gilmour is coaching basketball at a high school in Connecticut — Pomfret — and looking forward to some graduate work in social justice. While he sees a future for himself in coaching, he also wants to focus his work in the next couple of years on critical race theory and policy.
You can reach Kena Gilmour at [email protected] He is not on social media.
You can find out more about the NCAA Division III OneTeam program at the NCAA website.
You can watch Gilmour talk about the award here: