Athletes get real about stereotypes

Get REAL looks to end LGBTQ discrimination

Emily Hazlett has been involved in Get REAL since last school year.
Emily Hazlett has been involved in Get REAL since last school year.

As Emily Hazlett sat at the back of the packed Duncan McArthur Hall last month, she couldn’t help but tear up.

During a Get REAL presentation for Queen’s Faculty of Education, multiple audience members from the teacher’s college went to the front of the stage, took the microphone and shared their personal experiences with the LGBTQ community. Started in 2011, Get REAL is a student-run initiative dedicated to eliminating homophobic and transphobic discrimination. The program arrived at Queen’s in 2013.  

Better known for her time as a starting guard on the women’s basketball team, Hazlett has an expanded role in the Queen’s community, acting as the presentation manager for Get REAL.

“To actually hear someone else share their story instead, versus us always talking to the kids, was really touching,” Hazlett said.

Tackling homophobia hits home for Hazlett. At age 16, Hazlett brought home her first girlfriend to her parents, opening up questions about her sexuality. It wasn’t until last summer that she was entirely up front about her bisexuality with her close friends in Fredericton.

While her family and friends are now very supportive, Hazlett said she was occasionally bullied on her soccer team growing up due to her identity.

“Even though my experience in high school wasn’t awful or anything, I remember little bits and pieces and that really sucked … and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”

During a typical hour-long presentation, Get REAL ambassadors share personal stories to students while the discussing the use of homophobic and transphobic language in social settings. Through these talks, they hope to combat LGBTQ discrimination. 

More and more Queen’s athletes have gotten involved in Get REAL, including women’s basketball player and co-coordinator of Queen’s Get REAL Robyn Pearson. 

After meeting Get REAL founder Chris Studer during her second year at Queen’s, Pearson has been involved ever since. With her current focus on social media and editing videos, Pearson has tried to get the message out into the Queen’s community.

At the end of the 2014-15 school year,  a promotional video for Get REAL made by Pearson aired at Colour Awards, where varsity athletes are celebrated annually by Queen’s Athletics. 

Throughout the video, varsity athletes across all sports shared their experiences with the LGBTQ community as well as their fight against homophobia.

“A lot of athletes want to do their part and step forward,” Pearson said. “[They] realized it is a really easy way for them to get involved on campus in something that affects them or that can affect their teammates everyday.”

For Pearson, Get REAL provides a real change from when she grew up.

“There was so much closed-mindedness,” Pearson said. 

“[Now] you can see through each and every one of these presentations … you have affected at least one or two people, and there is no better feeling than that.”

Working alongside Pearson to oversee the Get REAL Queen’s chapter is former women’s rugby prop Devon Stride.

Originally from Kingston, Stride has played a pivotal role in expanding Get REAL into local high schools.

While the perception may be that people involved with Get REAL are part of the LGBTQ community, Stride said allies also provide strong support.

“I think that it takes individuals to stand up and have the confidence to say that ‘I don’t really care what you call me, I still support this’ … it is really important for someone who is an ally,” she said.

One of the greatest feelings for Stride comes when people from outside the LGBTQ community approach her.

“People will also come up and say, ‘My friend identifies this way and I want to help them, how do I help?’ and that’s so positive to see students who are so young grasp the idea and to see and want change.”

Stride felt this during Get REAL’s nail painting day in the ARC. Queen’s students sent photos of their painted nails to support a young boy from Ottawa who was being bullied for wearing nail polish to school.

“There were people who came who we didn’t even know,” Stride said. “They must have liked our page, but I never met them before … and [they] started to share personal details how they identify and how great this is.”

For Stride, Get REAL is just one step in the journey to ending discrimination.

“It was really awesome … for people who identify in the LGBTQ community to have a place where they feel comfortable to come and express themselves to feel validated and accepted.”

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