BOULDER, Colo. — Sports have not always been a safe space for LGBTQ+ athletes.
"I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to uphold a standard of being a gay athlete and thinking I had to prove to other people that I could accomplish these certain marks to be able to belong."
Distance runner Nicholas Turco said it was time to make a change.
"That's not what sport is about. To me, sport is about joy, camaraderie, competition, growing as a person," Turco said.
Turco, a native of Durango, Colorado, formerly competed at Western Colorado University, before finishing his academic career at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Driven by his own experiences as an openly gay collegiate athlete, he was influenced to create a research study in his new program.
The study was launched in partnership with his advisor Dr. Nancy Billica (Political Science) into what the climate and culture is like for LGBTQ+ members in CU’s Athletic Department.
According to the Colorado Athletics Visibility Awards (CAVA), their study determined that student-athletes may have a harder time being their authentic selves, especially in predominantly male-identified sports. Additionally, transgender and non-binary student athletes may still have a difficult time coming out in their respective teams.
From this research, the team developed the first-ever sports scholarship awarded for LGBTQ+ leadership, with the goal to create positive change and visibility.
"I really see it as celebrating people who are brave enough to step in and use their visibility to create change," Turco said.
While it celebrates the community, it's not exclusive to specific sexual orientations or gender identities. In fact, one of the two inaugural recipients openly identifies as a straight ally.
"Being an ally means more than just being comfortable with people in the LGBTQ spectrum, it means acceptance, and it's a joy," Evan Battey said.
He's not just any ally--he's a pretty high profile ally on campus. Battey is a 5th year star forward on the CU men's basketball team. This season, he became the 38th Buffalo to eclipse 1,000 career points.
"I have a responsibility," he said. "People look up to me and I have a responsibility to do the right thing."
A responsibility to end the stigma that people in the LGBTQ+ community do not have a home in sports.
"I think it's a toxic masculinity type of perspective and I think we can just break down those barriers and make it be okay to be comfortable with people who are in that spectrum. There's no reason why not," Battey said.
Alexia Kuehl is the other 2021 recipient of the CAVA. The redshirt sophomore played a big role on this year's team as the middle blocker. It's easy to see her on the court with her tall 6'7" frame, but she wants to make herself more visible to young people in the LGBTQ+ community who need someone to talk to.
"I personally never had anybody like this growing up, so my goal is to be there for anybody who wants to talk," she said.
And the goal for the entire scholarship is to leave a lasting impact on the community at large.
"Change doesn't happen by hoping it happens. It happens by somebody making a concerted effort and a consistent effort into making change," Battey said. "I think that's what Nicholas, the founder of this award and this scholarship, is doing."
Evan Battey plans to use his platform to host an LGBTQ+ night at an upcoming home game for the CU men's basketball team.
Alexia Kuehl is putting together videos on anti-bullying and inclusion to distribute to local schools in the greater-Boulder area.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Sports
> Top stories are curated daily just for you! Sign up for the 9NEWSLETTER to get can’t-miss stories, Next and Denver Broncos content, weather and more delivered right to your inbox.
MORE WAYS TO GET 9NEWS
Subscribe to our daily 9NEWSLETTER
Download the KUSA 9NEWS APP
Google Play: http://on9news.tv/1lWnC5n
HOW TO ADD THE 9NEWS APP TO YOUR STREAMING DEVICE
ROKU: add the channel from the ROKU store or by searching for KUSA.
For both Apple TV and Fire TV, search for KUSA "9news" to find the free app to add it to your account. Another option for Fire TV is to have the app delivered directly to your Fire TV through Amazon.