BIDDEFORD, Maine — Acceptance of LGBTQ community members is growing, but there is still a lot of silence in the sports world. LGBTQ athletes are often afraid to come out to teammates for fear of isolation, rejection or negatively impacting the team.
But that is changing thanks to a NCAA call to action that encourages diversity and inclusion among athletes. The University of New England answered that call, and wants all perspective athletes to know if you can play, you can play, regardless of sexual orientation.
UNE Gymnast Rose Karis knows what it's like to grapple with coming out to teammates.
"I didn't come out until last year actually," says Karis. "There were struggles with that. Wanting to tell people but not knowing if or how I should."
She ran scenarios over and over in her mind of how it might play out.
"I thought it would be weird in dressing rooms and competitions in general. We all get changed in front of each other," says Karis.
Eventually, hiding became too much to bear.
"I was sick of it," says Karis. "I was sick of burying it."
Karis took a leap and told her teammates her truth, and their responses were not what she expected or feared.
"Nothing changed at all," she says. "They didn't make a big deal about it. They were just like, 'Oh, okay.'"
Karis' fellow athletes surrounded her with support and made her feel loved and accepted. Now, UNE wants all other prospective athletes to know that they will be treated with that same respect, no matter who they choose to love.
The University recently produced a video where Nor'easter athletes spread a simple message of acceptance:
"If you can play, you can play."
Officials hope to reach others who are hiding who they are to let them know UNE teams are safe places to play and to be yourself.
"We want them to not only feel included in an inclusive environment, but we want them to feel celebrated," says Heather Davis, Associate Director of Athletics. "That really makes our community that much more vibrant and engaging."
Since she came out, Rose Karis has continued to grow at UNE as a gymnast and as a person -- reaching her potential with a little help from her teammates and friends.