University organization builds community through sports

Mae Hamilton

Although UT is well-known for dominating college sports, it offers little representation of gay and non-cisgendered athletes. For LGBT students yearning to find a place and let loose, a new organization is a welcoming compromise between the two worlds. 

The Federation of Lesbian, Ally and Gay Sports is a UT sports organization established to provide a safe space for LGBT students and to build a sense of community with allies. For many students like FLAGS social chair Samantha Freis, the organization is a homey middle ground between the sports world and LGBT community. 

“I wasn’t out during high school or my freshman year of college,” psychology senior Freis said. “It was definitely an adjustment, but my family has been really accepting, supportive and loving. I did have some friends that stopped associating with me after I came out. FLAGS was great for me because I went from knowing very few other queer people and feeling isolated to having a lot of queer friends that understood what I had gone through and could relate.”

Before coming to UT, Morgan Ehmling, a Plan II honors and biology junior, was a varsity athlete throughout high school and wanted to join a sports organization while getting involved in the LGBT community. Ehmling happened upon FLAGS at an orientation meeting at the Gender and Sexuality Center, began attending regular games and is now vice president of the organization.

“We’re creating a place for the queer community and the sports community to overlap, and [we’re] fostering the propagation of inclusive behaviors in spaces that have historically been dominated by straight, cis-gendered communities,” Ehmling said.

FLAGS doesn’t limit itself to one sport but rather lets members choose what they’d like to play each week. They hold events for popular games such as soccer and basketball every semester but also host monthly socials for outdoor recreational activities such as hiking and kayaking. Regardless of the sport, the goal is to make LGBT students and allies feel at home. 

“At one of the first soccer meetings I went to, I remember running around and then stopping to watch everyone play, and I couldn’t help but think, ‘Wow. This group of people is so weird but in the most amazing way,’” Ehmling said. 

Although FLAGS is a sports organization, Ehmling said its emphasis is on making connections and not on winning. For FLAGS president Gabby Dominguez, the organization sets itself apart from other LGBT organizations by being a place where people can come as they are. 

“I think sports provide a way to be silly and let loose a little bit,” said Dominguez, communication sciences and disorders senior. “We also don’t specify a certain level of knowledge of the sport, [so] anyone of any skill level can show up and just hang out with us. It’s just a way for people to get active and have some fun and not worry about being judged.”

For many members of FLAGS, coming to UT marked a major transition in their lives that let helped them feel more comfortable with their identities. FLAGS hopes to make a safe space that will function as a kind of second family for students.

“Our organization is created from individuals that come from all across campus, all across Texas and all across the world,” Ehmling said. “We have come together out of difference, a beautiful difference, and share our love as students, athletes and friends."