Kirk Walker is one of those people whom seems to know everybody and whom everybody seems to know, like and respect.
The UCLA assistant softball coach was the first openly gay NCAA Division I male coach to come out on Outsports, in 2007, while he was head softball coach at Oregon State. Since then, he has been a mentor for countless LGBTQ people in sports, in and out of the closet or somewhere in between.
He is a driving force behind two Facebook pages dedicated to LGBTQ people in sports — GO! Space and Equality Coaching Alliance. Walker has been one of the leading voices in the LGBTQ sports space for more than a decade.
For these reasons, Walker is Outsports 2020 Male Hero of the Year. But don’t take it from me. Instead, read from others who have been positively affected by Walker.
I reached out to Nick Lee, an openly gay former Vassar tennis player, and told him of the award and he asked others in the LGBTQ sports community what Walker has meant to them. Their comments show why he is such a deserving winner and speak volumes about the kind of man he is.
- Journalist, wrestling coach, Equality Coaching Alliance founder Roger Brigham: “When I founded Equality Coaching Alliance in 2011, Kirk was already publicly out as the head softball coach at Oregon State. He and rowing coach Charley Sullivan were the only two openly gay male coaches I knew of when I began recruiting members to ECA. The presence and success of Kirk and Charley at that level of sports were already a source of inspiration for queer and straight athletes and living examples of how LGBT+ individuals can thrive and lead in the sports world.
“In the years since, Kirk has used his professional networking and visibility opportunities to become the most active and effective recruiter ECA has. His efforts have been critical in our attracting more than 1,000 coaches and allies to join our movement. More importantly, as age and health took their toll on me and made it increasingly difficult for me to energize the ECA base, Kirk took my vision of the mission and moved it forward to become a more organized and effective entity as ECA moves toward formally organizing as a nonprofit organization.
“It is his combination of job skills, visibility, commitment to helping others, and ability to create conversations that lead to action that make him invaluable to the LGBT+ sports community.”
- Volleyball coach Galen Dodd: “Kirk has been a tremendous leader and advocate for the LGBT sports community for more than 10 years. He actively mentors and helps coaches and athletes through their own coming out journey while maintaining absolute privacy and respect.
“Kirk has worked with ally coaches, athletic departments and coaching organizations in all sports to advocate for the importance of LGBT+ issues in sports. He recently was our moderator for our very first LGBT+ coaching conversation with the annual volleyball convention.
“I have had the pleasure of knowing Kirk for the better part of 10 years and have closely worked with him over the last year on ECA & GO! SPACE membership. Regardless of where our sport journeys take us, I know Kirk will always be there to support me, our athletes, and our communities.”
- Ice hockey player Nora Cothren: “Kirk is the ultimate community builder and connector. The work he has put into GO! SPACE and ECA keeps me, and so many others, in touch with the folks I have met working in the LGBTQ+ sports movement. He puts his heart and soul into it all, and is always looking for ways to increase impact for those involved in those groups. All of this while coaching UCLA to multiple Women’s College World Series appearances, and a National Championship in 2019.
“He has doubled down on those efforts during COVID — utilizing the ability to connect digitally to increase opportunities for folks to connect and do work to support the community. He wants to make sure everyone who wants to be involved gets involved — which to me, is the most important part of community building.”
- Tennis player Nicholas Lee: “Kirk has a true passion for helping LGBTQ+ individuals in sports. His energy and devotion shine bright in the ECA and GO! SPACE groups where he continuously strives to spotlight our members, connect us, build community, and provide us with opportunity as we together aim to create more inclusive and equitable sports environments that embrace diversity. Kirk’s resolute dedication to this cause is one that is rare, and I am extremely excited that he is being named the Outsports Male Hero of the Year as he deserves this recognition!
“Because of Kirk, I have been able to connect with many other LGBTQ+ people in tennis and other sports. I have developed new friendships that will last a lifetime. I have also had the opportunity to work with Kirk to advance the missions of the ECA and GO! SPACE groups which has further solidified my own passion to help LGBTQ+ individuals in sports. Through his encouragement and belief in me and many other members, we continue to be inspired to work together for something bigger than ourselves.”
- Track and field athlete Cecé Telfer: “First of all, congratulations to Kirk. He was there for me when I needed resources and didn’t know what to do or where to go. He immediately took the initiative and got me in contact with who I needed to which for me meant the world.”
- Track coach Micah Porter: Kirk Walker is an irreplaceable pillar of the LGBTQ+ sports advocacy movement. His leadership, consistency, voice, and visibility provide a foundation of the work that so many are passionate about. You can’t have a conversation about LGBTQ+ inclusion in athletics, without mentioning Kirk Walker.
“Kirk Walker always makes it a priority to champion the work of others. He lifts them up. His humility, reflection, and kindness are a testament to his role as coach, advocate, and human. I am deeply proud to call him my friend.”
- Football player Etienne Aduya: “Kirk has been monumental to the LGBTQ+ sports movement. Without him, there would be no movement. From reposting athlete’s and coach’s stories to creating committees for our LGBTQ+ sports group to tackle different topics, his relentless hard work and dedication has led to nothing but momentum in the movement as well as increased visibility and membership.
“When I wrote my Outsports coming out story back in March 2017, Kirk reached out to me on the same day saying that he was immensely proud of me, excited for me and invited me to the GO! Space LGBTQ+ athlete group. He also told me to continue to work hard to be my best self and it will inspire and affect others. Back then, GO! Space had around 350 members, and by the end of this year we are closing in on 1,000 members.
“Kirk’s work in the sports movement has also inspired me to reach out to my alma mater (Williams College) and see how I can help to implement LGBTQ+ inclusion on the football team and the athletics department. Kirk’s work has been powerful not just for me, but LGBTQ+ athletes all around the world. Congratulations on being named Outsports male hero of the year!”
- Basketball coach Anthony Nicodemo: “Kirk is truly a pioneer in every sense of the word. What separates him from many is his dedication to the LGBTQ+ athletic community years after he came out himself. He continues to make the space safer by creating a network of support for so many. Lots of people move on with their lives, but Kirk seems to dedicate himself even more.”
- Basketball coach Layne Ingram: “From the first moment I was introduced to Kirk, he was just so welcoming and inviting. I had just come out publicly and was still nervous and worried about what was to come next and he made me feel safe and OK. He has worked so hard to build connections through sports for the LBGTQIA+ community and it’s a beautiful thing to see.
“He is a trailblazer and we all get to enjoy the fruits of his labor. His heart is in the right place and when he talks I hear the passion and the love and that can make all the difference. His work has and will continue to change lives and build bridges for athletes, coaches, sports information directors and everyone else so that it’s a better, safer place for us all.”
- Swimmer Lauren Neidigh: “Kirk has been an inspiration as a mentor and friend. He works tirelessly to make the LGBTQ+ community a better place for those in athletics and in the greater community. He has been a tremendous leader and role model. I will never forget all that he’s done for us.”
- Journalist Nick McCarvel: “From the minute I really stepped into the queer sports space Kirk has been nothing but welcoming, encouraging, friendly and strong. There are people in this life that do such an exceptional job at connecting one another, making you feel welcome, asking questions, never hesitating to loop you into a greater community. For me that’s been Kirk. Wise and informed yet with a smile on his face. We need more leaders like him, and I appreciate the way he’s kept in touch and kept pushing me to be and do more.”
- Rowing coach Anthea Barnett: “Kirk is an incredible person that I fortunately get to work with in the arena of sport-LGBTQ advocacy/education and also as a colleague at UCLA. Kirk’s energy is electric on and off the field. Kirk is an amazing leader because of his ability to draw people into not only believing in the purpose of the group mission but how their OWN capabilities help push it along. Kirk is effusive in his praise while leading the path with his industriousness, so it is quite bolstering when he shines his light on you.
“This year was a doozy to say the least, but Kirk’s energy and involvement in strengthening the voice of our community was astounding. I cannot sing Kirk’s praises enough and even though he has an incredible history, I doubt we have seen the end of his successes. Cheers, Kirk!”
The other nominee for male hero was rugby’s Verity Smith.
Smith is honored for his work advocating for inclusion in rugby for all, including trans players. Smith is diversity and inclusion lead for International Gay Rugby and chief diversity officer for the World Barbarians Foundation rugby club, “for unaffiliated players and other rugby harlots from around the world.”
Smith, a trans man, spoke out against World Rugby’s move that in essence blocks trans women from playing the sport. Listen to the Outsports podcast episode featuring Smith discussing his career and his advocacy.
You can follow Kirk Walker (@kirkwalker23) on Instagram by clicking here. Verity Smith is also on Instagram (@smithverity) and click here to follow him.
Outsports is unveiling the final 2020 honoree, the Person of the Year, at 1 p.m. EST.
Prior Male Hero Winners
2019: Rob Kearney
2018: Collin Martin
2017: Mack Beggs and Harrison Browne
2016: Amini Fonua
2015: Billy Bean
2014: Conner Mertens
Outsports has divided year-end Athlete and Hero awards to highlight accomplishments of people across genders. We understand that not everyone fits into the binary gender world currently established in sports, and we honor that identity with the Non-Binary Award.