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UB Athletics hosts #SpiritDay, a celebration of the LGBTQ community, at volleyball game Friday

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For the LGBTQ community and victims of bullying, Friday night’s volleyball game was their night.

#SpiritDay, which is a national event that supports LGBTQ youth and has been promoted by the likes of the NBA, MLB, WNBA and MLS, came to Alumni Arena Friday.

#SpiritDay is celebrated globally on Oct. 15, but since there were no UB sporting events on the Oct. 15, UB Athletics used the Oct. 16 volleyball match against Western Michigan as a platform for the event.

“We thought this would be a really nice thing for the campus,” said Kathy Twist, senior associate athletic director and one of the organizers of the event. “UB is a school of equality and justice. We need events like this to reinforce who we are.”

As for the game, the Bulls lost 3-1 to the Broncos, but head coach Blair Brown Lipsitz was quite excited about sporting a purple shirt to show support.

“It’s such a fantastic event for us to have and I’m proud to be a part of it and for our team to be a part of it,” Lipsitz said. “It was a sea of purple tonight and it was great to not only be playing for them, but with them also.”

Those who attended the volleyball game were encouraged to wear purple in support of #SpiritDay. UB Athletics also gave away purple T-shirts and purple bracelets at the game. The crowd was treated to Channel 7 News’ Ed Drantch, who is gay. Drantch emceed the event and hosted giveaways and activities.

GLAAD, a national LGBTQ organization, started #SpiritDay and the event found its way to UB through Twist and Chloe McIlwaine, a senior women administrator intern for Athletics, while they researched potential theme nights UB could host this year. In getting the event organized, Twist and McIlwaine called upon Jim Bowman, LGBTQ Wellness and special projects coordinator, and Terri Budek, associate director for the Intercultural and Diversity Center.

“I’m very familiar with the event, and I’ve worked with Kathy before on LGBTQ equality and inclusion in athletics, [as well as] the SAC council about raising awareness,” Bowman, a self-identified gay man, said. “So I was very excited about doing this.”

Drantch gave away prizes and shared anecdotes about what it is like to be a gay man in today’s society. Drantch said more and more Americans feel comfortable coming out on Facebook and other social media outlets, which is the exact way he came out to his parents and the world.

Bowman took the day quite personally, as he experienced first-hand victimization of bullying for sexual orientation.

“I have experienced bullying and also a lot of support. #SpiritDay is important for a discussion that needs to happen,” Bowman said. “We need to raise awareness for this issue for everybody even outside of LGBTQ communities. It is both personal and important.”

The crowd of 229 people was quite receptive to the event, supporting the Bulls even when they fell behind. The Bulls trailed 2-0 through the first two sets, but the energy of the crowd provided the spark Buffalo needed to win the third set and push the score to 2-1. The Bulls ultimately dropped the fourth and final set to lose the match 3-1. But Friday was about celebrating the LGBT community, win or lose.

Promotion of the event consisted of flyers hanging around the school, as well as outreach to organizations such as Western New York Pride and the Matthew Sheppard Foundation, another fund started to raise awareness of bullying against the LGBTQ community. Twist and Bowman were also instrumental in creating a promotional video entitled “You Can Play,” which was geared toward promoting inclusion of LGBTQ in sports. Various Bulls athletes from all teams and administrators contributed to the video.

“We came with our team and for the event,” said junior swimmer Mackenzie Moss. “It’s awesome to come and support the LGBTQ community.”

Randi Morkisz, an East Amherst resident, was not aware of #SpiritDay event before attending the game and learned of it minutes before the start of the match, but supported the event nonetheless.

“There has been a positive community response, no backlash or negativity at all,” Twist said. “[It’s not surprising] since Buffalo is the City of Good Neighbors. We wanted this to spread beyond the campus walls and unite the community.”

As for future employment of #SpiritDay, Twist has no doubt that it will happen again in years to come.

“I’d like to make it a yearly thing,” Twist said. “[Friday’s] enthusiasm was great, Drantch did a good job engaging with the students, we had allies and the LGBTQ community came together. It’s definitely happening again next year.”

Reuben Wolf is a contributing writer and can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com.


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