TikTok — the world’s leading app for short-form mobile video — is now also the home of out LGBTQ athletes and coaches and other folks involved in sports invested in spreading acceptance.
The five-year-old Sports Equality Foundation launched the account in partnership with Outsports on Jan. 11. In just eleven days, @sportsequalityfdn has more than 5,200 followers and its roster of a dozen videos has garnered more than 65.5K likes.
The newest, hottest video uploaded to the app is by college wrestler Mack Beggs, whose battle to compete as a the young man he is made headlines starting in 2017. “I am a trans advocate for the trans community in sports,” Beggs says in his video.
Beggs is a transgender man, and the other LGBTQ athletes who have recorded videos represent a rainbow of orientations, from gay to lesbian to queer, and a variety of identities and sports.
Kena Gilmour, recently named the inaugural NCAA Division III LGBTQ Athlete of the year, delivered a message to closeted athletes in his video: “Know that you’re not alone and that there is an entire community of people that has your back and is rooting for you.”
One year ago, the Washington Post called TikTok “the soul of the LGBTQ internet.” One of the originators of the account, college soccer captain Couper Gunn, told Outsports this is one more way to reach those souls, lost, found and closeted.
“I have public TikTok and Instagram accounts because I know that as a queer athlete, I can show closeted athletes that not only is it OK to be queer and an athlete,” Gunn wrote in his Coming Out story, “but that the ability to be proud of who you love and how you identify is empowering.”
Gunn’s introductory Sports Equality video has been viewed almost 14K times, which isn’t surprising since his own account has 10K followers and his videos have recorded more than 101K likes.
Most of the TikTok videos feature everyday athletes and newcomers to TikTok, like college tennis coach Maria López, whose “I AM” video reveals she is Venezuelan, lesbian and a dog mom. The hope is that more people will step forward and record their own videos, expanding the effort toward greater LGBTQ inclusion in sports.
“This tik tok initiative is so inspiring for several reasons,” out UCLA softball coach and Sports Equality co-founder Kirk Walker told Outsports. “It came out of the hearts and minds of young LGBTQ athletes and the potential reach to the next generation of LGBTQ sports advocates is tremendous. Their desire to reach and empower closeted and LGBTQ athletes in the TikTok world has catapulted Sports Equality into this social media space.”
Coach Walker, who is also the driving force behind two Facebook pages dedicated to LGBTQ people in sports — GO! SPACE and Equality Coaching Alliance — recorded his own “I AM” video.
High school state soccer champion and now college athlete Josh Leafer recorded and produced the very first of the “I AM” videos. He said he did it to help others.
“I’m doing this because I was never comfortable enough to come out to my soccer team in high school,” Leafer told Outsports. “They were my brothers off and on the field, but I felt like if I ever came out, then I would be treated differently, and that terrified me. The Sports Equality Foundation is a platform for queer athletes, closeted or not, and it’s a platform I wish I had when I was scared to come out. I know someone out there is currently having the struggles I once had, and with the help of the Sports Equality Foundation they can ease better into their true life.”
“The Sports Equality Foundation and Outsports TikTok initiative has the power to reach an unprecedented number of youth and teens in ways not yet fully realized by the LGBTQ+ sports advocacy movement,” said LGBTQ youth sports advocate and educator Micah Porter, who is both an adviser and the star of a video that is now in production. “It is inspiring to see our young leaders in the movement illuminate new and engaging ways to change the landscape of inclusivity in sports for our LGBTQ+ community.”
“The response has been great and more importantly we have already added several new members to GO! SPACE and Equality Coaching Alliance that we would never have gotten connected with,” Walker added. “The passion and energy of our organizing committee is contagious and inspiring. Kudos to their individual and collective efforts. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”
If you’re not a TikTok user, you can check out all the videos by clicking this link. If you would like to make an “I AM” video, contact the Sports Equality Foundation via email at [email protected] or visit the foundation’s site on Facebook by clicking here and follow @sportsequalityfdn on Instagram by clicking here.