Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to achieving equality for LGBTQ athletes at all levels, unveiled its latest Athlete Equality Index report examining inclusivity and policies at 65 schools in the NCAA’s Power 5 conferences.
The report graded schools based on factors including nondiscrimination policies, LGBTQ resources, fan code of conduct, LGBTQ inclusivity campaigns or initiatives, policies for trans student-athlete inclusion, student-athlete initiatives, events supporting LGBTQ inclusion, and the presence of out or Athlete Ally-trained athletic staff members.
The report marked the second time Athlete Ally produced the Athlete Equality Index after rolling out the first edition in 2017.
The biggest difference between the grading factors in the 2017 report and the 2019 report was that the latest one measured LGBTQ events and “cross-campus partnerships,” which represents collaborations between athletic departments and the campus’ LGBTQ groups.
PAC 12 and Big 10 schools scored the best, with those institutions averaging grades of 83.5 and 83.3, respectively. The ACC trailed behind at 79.4, followed by the Big 12 at 69.8 and the SEC at 65.6. The SEC and Big 12 consist mostly of schools in the South, where Republicans overwhelmingly control state governments and resist LGBTQ rights advances. Still, schools in those two conferences, most of them public institutions, saw their average scores improve by 11 points and 8.7 points, respectively, since 2017.
A cross-section of schools — from all different parts of the country — earned scores of 100. Those schools included Duke University and the University of Miami in the ACC; Ohio State University, Indiana University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Big 10; the University of Texas at Austin in the Big 12; and the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Southern California in the PAC 12. No SEC schools earned top scores.
That list expanded significantly from 2017, when just three of those educational institutions — Ohio State, Berkeley, and USC — boasted scores of 100. The improvements are evident in other categories, too. Eighty-one percent of the schools examined in the study had an out or Athlete Ally-trained staff member in their athletic department, and 12 schools — up from five in 2017 — now have a fan code of conduct protecting against anti-LGBTQ language.
The school that saw the biggest boost from 2017 was the University of Pittsburgh, which saw its score climb from 48 to 85. But others also upped their game: Boston College jumped 32.5 points, Purdue improved from 67.5 to 95, the University of Iowa moved from 55.5 to 95, and Syracuse University shot up 20 points to a score of 85.
The improvements could be chalked up to a wide range of factors, but Athlete Ally has also played a central role in that effort by working with schools on their scores and holding trainings on college campuses. Athlete Ally deploys high-profile “ambassadors” such as out lesbian soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who was just named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year, to assist in their effort, but also utilizes numerous other athletes from different levels of sport.
Athlete Ally claims that its 2017 report pushed 25 schools to adopt inclusion policies, and that the amount of schools with trans-inclusive athletic polices quadrupled.
“The AEI paints a picture of the kind of environment LGBTQ student-athletes, fans, coaches, staff and administrators face in 2019,” Hudson Taylor, Athlete Ally’s founder and executive director, said in a written statement. “It’s our hope that through this data, we can showcase best practices, highlight areas of improvement, and work to make athletic spaces more welcoming and inclusive for all.”
Not all schools posted positive numbers in this year’s report. The worst performing school on the list was Baylor, based in Waco, Texas. That school had a -45 score in 2017 and posted a zero rating this time around. The school with the second-worst score was Notre Dame, which saw its outcome drop, B from a score of 40 in 2017 to 30 in 2019.
Other schools with shaky scores included the University of Georgia (48), the University of Mississippi (55), Auburn (55), the University of Oklahoma (55), Penn State (53), the University of Arizona (53), and Arizona State University (53).
Researchers reviewed school handbooks, policy manuals, and websites, and sought feedback from out or allied staff members from each school to gather the information necessary for the report.
As its work continues to develop, Athlete Ally is planning to introduce new goal posts in the next report, including whether colleges have gender-neutral bathroom and locker room spaces.