Reelected captain, a gay college sailor strives for inclusion in sport

Editor’s note: John DeRuff will be part of a panel discussion Thursday on LGBTQ diversity, equity and inclusion sponsored by US Sailing.

As an out sailor, I look forward to the day where junior sailors who are struggling with pieces of their identity can easily see role models throughout the sport.

When I published my coming out story last year, the support I received from my team has become the force that has pushed me to help my sport become a place where every LGBTQ+ sailor is loved the way I feel.

Yet before, I struggled to know if the sport I love would love me back. Beyond my own team, I heard from friends I hadn’t been in close touch with, George Washington University alumni and folks I have never met. One friend told me how his sister came out to their parents and it didn’t go well. He said that she’s struggled to find a support network, and she wanted thank me for putting myself out there for our community.

Writing this piece also allowed me to discover the powerful community of LGBTQ athletes, and gave me the confidence to pursue my internship with Athlete Ally this summer. I worked with the George Washington athletic department to institute three inclusive policies and add a diversity, equity and inclusion page to the website.

As a passionate sailor and a gay man, I am grateful to see US Sailing leaning in and opening channels to the national conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion in the sport I cherish.

I am grateful also for the opportunity to participate in an online panel presentation this Thursday at 7 p.m. EDT, and I invite the Outsports community to join three internationally recognized sailors and myself for the latest in US Sailing’s series on inclusion.

The George Washington sailing team in action.

As my teammates at George Washington University reelected me team captain this year, I felt their full support again. Acceptance like that means the world to anyone identifying as LGBTQ.

As society has grown more accepting, or less unaccepting, it is easy to forget the confused, fearful kid next door who may show up tomorrow for sailing lessons — or not — out of fear. To the extent that organizations are able to invest in training and awareness resources and opportunities, all of sailing will benefit.

Fewer than a quarter of LGBTQ+ youth play a sport in high school, a fraction of the average for youth at large, but the trendline is clear: more people are out. More people are laying claim to the lives they need to live, and if you are a good-spirited human being, the question is not if, but when, you will have your own opportunity to help an LGBTQ athlete navigate sport.

While our panel will be focused specifically on sailing, I believe that much of what we discuss will be applicable to any sport that wants to help lead the conversation on inclusion. My hope now is that you will join us on Thursday, and beyond. Find the panel on US Sailing’s Starboard Portal.

John DeRuff is a rising senior at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and a two-year captain of the GW Sailing Team. From San Francisco, he’s sailed throughout California and across the East Coast. Since publishing his coming out story on Outsports in the fall of 2019, he has been a passionate advocate of LGBTQ+ rights in college athletics. This summer working with Athlete Ally and GW Athletics, he helped the department adopt a number of inclusive policies and build a diversity and inclusion page for the department. In his free time, John loves to get outside on his road bike, obsess over coffee, cook, and play “tennis” with his dog, Lucy. He can be reached by email ([email protected]) or Instagram (jcderuff).


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