Competitive Clubs

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Women’s softball captain on slow but steady progress in collegiate sports

Photo courtesy: Jean Cardona

When Jean Cardona first came to the University of Ottawa, she was not yet openly gay. But she built up the courage to come out after her rookie season of playing softball for the Gee-Gees.

Cardona found acceptance and respect from her team. Four years later, she and her teammates have joined the You Can Play project.

It’s a social activism campaign aimed at eliminating homophobia from sports, with the message that all athletes deserve the same respect and equality regardless of sexual orientation. “If you can play, you can play,” goes the slogan. Cardona says it’s important for getting people to take notice of the issues that many LGBTQ+ athletes and others deal with day to day.

“I may be more aware of homophobia than others as it affects me personally,” she says. “Educating people with LGBTQ issues and making people aware of the struggles some people may face can really make an impact towards removing homophobia completely.”

The women’s softball team, captained by Cardona, is the latest of many to join the initiative.

In 2012, the U of O’s athletics department was the first in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) to join the You Can Play campaign. They created an online video featuring athletes and coaches supporting the organization—but since then, not much more has been seen from the Gee-Gees’ end of the campaign.

Andy Sparks, head coach of the women’s basketball team, says his team has fostered an inclusive environment that’s not concerned about issues such as sexual orientation. Lionel Woods, head coach of women’s volleyball, adds that he hasn’t heard of any issues surrounding it.

“Overall it’s a healthy environment,” says Woods. “But just because something hasn’t been brought to my attention, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, the country’s only national charity promoting LGBTQ+ human rights, reports that despite progress toward legal equality, LGBTQ+ Canadians still face discrimination and victimization in their daily lives. This organization launched the campaign #HearOurStory in October as a response to the need for a stronger LGBTQ+ voice.

“The University of Ottawa is on the front lines with this,” says Sparks.

He notes that the U of O’s student athlete services officer has been working with committees across the CIS to engage in those types of discussions. Cardona says the Gee-Gees are headed in the right direction but still need to take more action.

“I can’t really say if the Gee-Gees have made any improvements for LGBTQ athletes because as an athlete at the U of O, I honestly can’t think of a time that it was supported or discussed as far as the competitive clubs’ teams go,” she says.

The softball team holds “awareness weekends,” and two out of four years they’ve dedicated it to the LGBTQ+ community.

“I think many, if not all of the teams should commit to this,” said Cardona. “Athletes could help make people who may be gay on their team feel OK and welcomed in planning these awareness weekends and show their teammates they support them.”