DURHAM, N.C. -- Fag. Silence. That’s gay. Quiet. No homo. Crickets.
Duke University wrestler Dylan Ryan is on a mission to make some noise. After being personally attacked with homophobic slurs because he was a wrestler, the redshirt sophomore decided the silence had to end. Not for him personally as a straight male, but for those – athletes and non-athletes alike – who face the daily struggle of being a member of the LGBT community.
Ryan, better known as ‘Rhino’ to his teammates, was berated with homosexual slurs in an online discussion simply because he was a wrestler. Disheartened by the bigotry, he stood up to all those attacking him at that moment.
Duke’s Assistant Director of Athletics for Student-Athlete Welfare Leslie Barnes saw his posts and was encouraged that a straight male athlete was willing to confront this behavior in a public forum.
“I told him ‘I saw this conversation, I was so proud of you,’” Barnes said. “I think publicly there are very few straight males willing to stand up the way he did and does. Rhino uses his social media platforms and will talk in front of other groups. There are some guys who behind closed doors you know they’re supportive, but they’re not at that point where they think it’s in their best interest or they say it’s not their business.”
Passionate about this topic, Ryan, with Barnes’ encouragement, reached out to Athlete Ally founder and former University of Maryland wrestler, Hudson Taylor, who had come to speak at a freshman action meeting during Ryan’s first year at Duke to see what part he could play.
“In the past and presently knowing kids who have come out as members of the LGBTQ community it inspired me to get into contact with Hudson again knowing that he was a wrestler,” Ryan said. “So I wrote him a nice letter asking him how I could help out and he offered me the opportunity to be one of the college ambassadors to bring Athlete Ally to Duke.”
Athlete Ally, founded by Taylor, is a non-profit organization focused on ending homophobia and transphobia in sports by educating allies like Ryan in the various athletic communities all over the world. The organization features campus ambassadors from universities all across the nation along with the likes of former professional tennis player Andy Roddick and current NBA forward Kenneth Faried.
Rhino quickly embraced the opportunity to create change and started with the place he spends the most time – the wrestling room.
“Especially in a sport like wrestling, it’s difficult where there is so much physical contact, there is this area where people I guess fear a little bit,” Ryan said about starting to change the wrestling culture at Duke. “It’s about keeping people accountable.”
And now when an inappropriate comment might slip in the locker room or on the mat, people are quick to apologize because that’s not what they stand for as a team.
“We’re a team and respecting each other and respecting each other’s opinions is important and has kept some things out of the [wrestling] room and has allowed us to make progress on that front as a team.”
Having taken the first step of making those he spends the most time with aware of how their words and actions impact people, Ryan’s next move is to get every team at Duke involved. A female member from both the Duke rowing and fencing teams has joined Ryan in his efforts, but he’s not stopping there.
“I’d like to see at least an athlete from every team come to a meeting and come help out to keep their teammates accountable because at some point there is going to be an athlete in everybody’s sport who is openly LGBT. It’s just about having equality and being a better university because obviously it’s a changing world and we’re going to have to change.”
And change will come with Rhino’s voice leading the charge.
“If I can gain publicity here and have more people looking at the University and thinking we’re making gains that would be great. I’m committed to this.”