Cyd Zeigler has a feeling about being gay that might surprise some people.
“Being gay is one of the best things that ever happened to me,” said Zeigler, co-founder of OUTsports.com and a graduate of Harwich High School.
But he hasn't always felt that way. There was a time when the realization of his sexuality was unsettling, especially when it came to participation in sports. To help athletes, teammates, coaches, and families better understand the challenges of being gay and passionate about sports, Zeigler is bringing his message to the masses in an Oct. 6 talk in Hyannis titled “Identifying the Intersection of Athletics, LGBTQ Diversity, and Anti-Bullying Rhetoric.”
The talk was organized by Sturgis Charter Public School senior Jonathan Peters, an openly gay man working to help LGBTQ youth.
“This is...a time to continually be educated on the impacts bullying can have on young people, to figure out a way to make bullying 'uncool,' and to embrace diversity in the classrooms and on the athletic fields,” Peters said. “Athletes and former athletes are given that platform to create change. It's only when bringing what is learned back into the community that we can make change happen.”
Peters recruited both Zeigler and 13-year-old Pennsylvania lacrosse player Braeden Lange, who was bullied after coming out in his own community, for the talk. Zeigler said he was thrilled to participate, and not only because the talk is on Cape Cod.
“I've written in the last 15 years about hundreds of LGBT athletes,” said Zeigler. “The stories don't change. The roles that coaches play in the lives of LGBT youth don't change.”
Zeigler will share his own experiences as a means of spreading hope.
“Being a teenager who's gay and closeted in what is really a rural area, you don't necessarily see that being gay is a blessing,” Zeigler said. “That's how I look at it now. I want to share that, particularly for the LGBT kids in the audience.”
It took time for Zeigler to fully understand his own sexuality.
“When I was in fourth grade there was a girl who liked me and I didn't like her,” Zeigler explained. “She started saying that I must be gay since I wouldn't kiss her. It stuck, and for the rest of my time at Harwich I was teased about being the gay kid.”
All Zeigler knew was that he wasn't attracted to girls.
“Sometime in eighth or ninth grade I realized I wanted to be near boys in a way that was different from most other boys,” he said. “Then I thought maybe I was bisexual, and I really didn't know how to understand it.”
During high school, Zeigler became a record-setting track and cross-country star, noting that his successes led to the eventual demise of his gay teasing, while he pondered his own sexuality privately, finally coming out in college. These days, Zeigler, who is happily married, divides his time between OUTsports and serving as a local football referee. He also plays flag football regularly near his Hollywood Hills home, and reflects often on the challenges of being gay and athletic.
“Sports in America are part and parcel the definition of masculinity,” he said. “Men define themselves as masculine through sports. Having a gay person around just upsets that.”
Coaches, he said, often shy away from any discussion of it, for various reasons.
“Most coaches and athletic administrators don't know how to get ahead of that,” Zeigler said. “They feel weird about addressing it. If they really want to make a welcoming environment, talk about it. It can go so far for that kid.”
Communication, Zeigler said, is key.
“When you're in a boys' locker room and they're talking about girls, that's not a conversation that a gay player is comfortable with,” he said. “It conveys the message that [gay athletes] don't belong. If you want to fix that, it takes very conscious, deliberate action. I think no matter what sport you play, communication is essential to success and this is just a part of that essential communication.”
For Zeigler, it's about finding ways to offer support.
“What can non-LGBT people do to help?” he said. “What very simple things can they do to make sure that gay and trans kids in their schools and on their teams don't think about killing themselves?”
For teens, the national average for suicide is four times higher for those who are gay, and eight times higher for those who are transgender.
Zeigler wants to help find a place of harmony, knowing that someone can be gay and a sports enthusiast.
“Sports have been a part of my life all of my life,” he said. “Sports are part of my identity as a person, and part of my identity as a gay man. Meeting other gay people in sports has really helped.”
The event featuring Zeigler and Lange begins at 11 a.m. Oct. 6 at the Hyannis Resort and Conference Center, and Zeigler is hoping it's well-attended. Attendees are asked to register by Sept. 30 at sturgischarterschool.org.
“It's important to have these conversations particularly about sports, because they're just not happening in the sports world,” he said. “It's OK to talk about it because there is still so much fear out there. We have for too long allowed a narrative that LGBT people won't be accepted in sports. It's simply not true. Debunking it isn't so easy. But we're trying.”