Kye Allums' Courage Transcends Gender, Athletics
By the end of the first week of sit-ins 50 years ago in Greensboro, N.C., the scores of black college students daring to break segregation's stranglehold on freedom by demanding service at whites' only lunch counters had attracted angry white mobs set on maintaining the status quo.
"There were a lot of counter-demonstrators," Lewis Brandon, one of the black students, recalled earlier this year to Yes! Weekly in Greensboro at the opening of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum there. "[Then] it got quiet.
"When I looked up," Brandon said, "the [North Carolina A&T] football players were standing at the top of the steps."
Store owners shooed away the mob and shut down their stores. The athletes girded what became a hallmark civil rights movement campaign that helped outlaw racial discrimination in this country.
That wasn't the first or last time standouts in the sports world, to whom we afford a prowess that is mythical or real, have had such an affect. A singular brave decision by George Washington basketball player Kye Allums unveiled Monday could do the same by providing backbone to another minority among us deserving of more respectable treatment.
Allums revealed to Outsports.com that a woman's body is sheathing his being a man, and that despite being designated female at birth he's always felt the opposite and is ready to transition to becoming male.
Last year, he was listed on the roster as Kay-Kay. This year, he also asked to be referred to by male pronouns.
Allums, a 20-year-old junior on the Colonials' women's team, is, in other words, not unlike a small group of other young people whom we've learned in recent weeks can be literally bullied to death because they are homosexual or just suspected of being so. They include the recent suicides of several teenagers like Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, who shot himself with his father's handgun, and, more infamously, Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in New York after his roommate secretly recorded him with another male student and proceeded to broadcast the video online.
Clementi's accused secret videographers, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, also 18, were charged with invasion of privacy. They subsequently withdrew from Rutgers. New Jersey prosecutors are considering upgrading the charges against Ravi and Wei to a hate crime. New Jersey lawmakers last week also introduced a bill to toughen the state's anti-bullying laws.
"As a parent of two daughters, it breaks my heart," President Obama said in a video posted on YouTube and the White House website in the wake of Clementi's death. "It's just something that shouldn't happen in this country.
"I don't know what it's like to be picked on for being gay. But I do know what it's like to grow up feeling that sometimes you don't belong," the President said. "It's tough."
The White House titled Obama's address, which assured young gays of a brighter future, "It Gets Better." The Department of Education responded by sending a memo to schools around the country reminding them of their legal obligation to protect all students.
But there may be nothing, and no one, that can make those of a minority feel less fearful than someone as brave as an athlete like Allums, who is standing up for his difference on a public stage and without shame. Some athletes have been called upon, like the football players at historically black A&T who stood up for their race. Others have been conscripted, like Magic Johnson who wound up having to stand up for those afflicted with HIV and AIDS. Allums was a little of both. He said he realized how he was born and could no longer live a lie.
When his team tips off its first game this season scheduled for Nov. 13 at the Best Buy Classic in Minneapolis -- 30 minutes from Allums' Hugo, Minn. hometown -- against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Allums will become the first publicly acknowledged transgender person to play in an NCAA Div. 1 college basketball game.
Four years ago, Keelin Godsey at Bates College won his second women's NCAA Division III hammer throw championship after changing his name from Kelly and announcing, much like Allums, that he was transitioning from a lifelong designation as female.
Godsey sought, however, not to stand out any more than necessary. Allums sounded this week as if he has decided to confront how people may look differently at him head on.
"I used to feel like trans- anything was really weird and those people were crazy, and I wondered, 'How can you feel like that?'" Outsports.com quoted Allums on Monday. "But I looked it up on the Internet and I thought, 'Oh my god, I'm one of those weird people.' And I realized they're not weird. It's all in your mindset and how you think."
Allums, like Godsey, won allowance from the NCAA to continuing participating as a woman because, an NCAA spokesman informed me Tuesday, the NCAA believes that following the gender classification of student-athletes' state identification documents, like driver's licenses, and each school's gender designation of the athlete is the best way for now to determine sex.
Only if Allums sought hormonal treatment in transitioning to becoming a male would his eligibility to compete with and against women come into question because hormones, including testosterone, are banned by the NCAA as performance-enhancing substances. Allums echoed Godsey and said Monday he was putting off such treatment until after his college career.
Time was, of course, when Allums and Goodsey may not have had much choice other than to keep what they were wrestling with to themselves. They would've been ostracized at best and kicked off their teams, losing their athletic scholarships that were providing them college educations. But in this new more enlightened millennium, George Washington and Bates stood by their transgender athletes.
And with Kye Allums standing up this week for his difference, those like him elsewhere who have struggled to find the courage to do the same hopefully will.