Lesbian soccer coach fired from Christian university, just in time for Rally For Girls’ Sports Day

Today is Rally for Girls’ Sports Day, celebrating, well, girls’ sports — specifically, the importance of having sports for girls and the benefits of participating in athletics. The National Women’s Law Center, who’s sponsoring the day, has tons of information and research about the subject.

AfterEllen.com supports the project, of course; most of the women you run into around here have played sports at some point along the way. And all of us know the benefits of playing with sporty women.

But a story that broke last week is testimony to the fact that women who make a career of improving opportunities for girls in sports still have a long way to go — especially if they’re lesbians.

Lisa Howe, Belmont University’s women’s soccer coach, resigned last week. Although the official press release said that Howe made the decision to resign, soccer team members say that Howe told them privately that she was pressured into leaving after telling school administrators that she and her same-sex partner were going to have a baby.

According to senior player Erica Carter, Howe requested permission from school officials to talk to her team about the pregnancy before they found out from other sources. She asked several times, but administrators ignored her. When word started getting out, Howe went ahead and told the team.

Team captain Sari Lin said that Athletic Director Mike Strickland told her that Howe violated university policy regarding sexual orientation. “He basically said we have the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and when she told us about the pregnancy, it violated that,” Lin said. “She was telling us what her sexual preference is. He said you can hide your sexuality, but you can’t hide a baby. He pretty much told me that once the baby was born she was going to get fired anyway, so it’s better to do it sooner than later.”

Howe has declined comment on whether she was pressured to resign, but did say she’s proud of the job she did at Belmont.

“I was a good student athlete recruiter, had an organized and professionally run program, and was one of Belmont’s best employees,” Howe said in a statement issued by her attorney. “None of that changed when I acknowledged that I am a lesbian and that my partner and I are expecting a baby. I am proud of who I am and my family and our future, and I want every person — no matter what race, religion, nationality, or sexuality they represent — to feel the same way.”

Tuesday, Nashville Scene revealed an ironic footnote to this story: the school that became Belmont University may have been founded by lesbians. In 1996, the Scene reported that the founders of Belmont College were Ida E. Hood and Susan L. Heron, whom many historians believe were lesbians:

Ida E. Hood and Susan L. Heron are buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in a grave with a double marker. Documents and paperwork found in the Nashville Room of the public library paint a picture of two lifemates who very likely shared much more than a devoted “friendship.” (One oft-repeated anecdote tells of the two women daily pushing the sofa in front of the door when it came time for their afternoon nap.)

I guess if Hood and Heron knew about Howe’s firing, they’d roll over in their shared grave. In any case, this story is far from over. The media is having a field day, Belmont faculty members are speaking out in support of Howe and calling for open dialogue about sexual orientation, one of the university’s major benefactors called for Howe to be rehired, and Belmont students are protesting on campus.

We’ll keep you posted on any new developments. Meanwhile, join me in wishing Lisa Howe and her partner all the best as they start their family. And share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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