Speaking up for social change

Cal’s Mikayla Lyles has been working for five months with Stanford’s Toni Kokenis to plan a program of events to connect their schools in support of LGBT inclusion in sports. AP Photo/John Minchillo

My generation, especially within the collegiate athletic community, holds a unique opportunity. As part of the athletic world, we represent the tradition of competition and rivalry within sports. As part of the Millennial Generation, we represent the fearlessness, ambition and optimism characteristic of our generation.

The intersection of these two worlds provides us with a platform to let our voices be heard. With that being said, I'd like to share a journey I have embarked on that signifies the opportunities a student-athlete of our generation is given.

For the past five months, I have been working with Toni Kokenis, a Stanford women's basketball player, to plan a program of events that connects our universities in support of LGBT inclusion in sports. LGBT inclusion alone has been one of the primary social issues, if not the social issue, of our time. While our nation as a whole has made great strides toward acceptance and equality, any discussion of sexual orientation within sports has remained relatively silent.

Being from rival schools yet sharing a common passion, Toni and I believed we were in the unique position to show that our rivalry can be more than just a symbol of competition; it can serve as a platform for unity and progress. We believe equality should be expected, not questioned, regardless of one’s gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.

In order to spark a dialogue at the collegiate level about LGBT inclusion in sports, we are hosting two panel discussions, one at Stanford and one at Cal, with several influential and pioneering members of the current LGBT sports community: Wade Davis (You Can Play), Pat Griffin (founder of Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), Helen Carroll (National Center for Lesbian Rights) and Nevin Caple (Br{ache the Silence).

Toni and I will represent our respective schools on the panel and discuss how we can continue to generate awareness on this topic, to bridge the gap between the older generation and our youth in progressing LGBT inclusion, and to encourage people to consider another way of thinking when relating LGBT issues with athletics. In hopes of bringing the entire Bay Area community together, we also will be hosting a high school diversity workshop and youth teamwork clinic before our rivalry game.

In planning these events, Toni and I wanted to provide a space for dialogue that brought the Bay Area community together -- fans, students, youth and alumni alike. The event is the first of its kind. Created, designed and executed by two student-athletes, it shows that there is no rivalry in equality, and working together makes greater progress when advocating for social change.

Acceptance can be achieved only through understanding, and understanding can be achieved only when athletes speak up to share their opinions on this important social issue.