Prizm News / March 1, 2019 / By Austin Mariasy
Monique Smith came out as bi long before enrolling at Kent. ‘I’m still Mo,’ she says.
By Austin Mariasy
The lights go out, the music blares and the video board high above half-court screams to life. A lone spotlight travels in a figure eight around the entire M.A.C. Center.
Kent State University’s women’s basketball team forms a tunnel leading from their bench onto the court. A single player stands at the opening, and as the announcer calls each name, the players run through the tunnel of hands and do a small dance of sorts with the player at the mouth of the tunnel.
After the last name is called, the lights come up, the music still blares, and the team has formed a circle around that same player from the mouth of the tunnel. Monique Smith leads everyone in a chant and a dance to get the team fired up for the game that’s about to start.
She stomps her feet and whips like she’s about to nae nae. Her teammates yell. Smith stomps her feet and brushes her hair, already in a tight bun on the top of her head, behind her ears. Her teammates yell some more. At the end of the dance, they put their hands in the middle of the circle, say some words of encouragement, and on the count of three they all say, “Together!”
The game begins.
So goes the pregame ritual every couple of days when the Golden Flashes play. They’ll do this at least 29 times this season, and second-year guard Monique Smith is in the middle every time. She’s the loudest and most enthusiastic player on the team, and she definitely cheers the loudest during celebrations.
She stands out in another way, too. Smith is the only openly bisexual woman on the team.
Like many LGBTQ people, she knew her identity from a young age but took her time coming out to her family. When Smith was in the 8th grade, she developed a bit of a crush on a girl in her class. She thought it was just a friendship at first, but as time went on she realized there was more to it than that.
“It feels a little bit more than a friendship,” she recalls thinking at the time. “I don’t really know. Maybe other people feel this way, too. And I figured it out, and I was like, I like girls too.”
The San Diego native has always been accepted by her family, and that gave her the confidence to come out and play basketball as an openly bisexual woman in a Division 1 program, the highest level of college sports.
Kent State has been an accepting place for Smith, both on and off the basketball court. Like most universities, it enforces LGBTQ-inclusive anti-discrimination policies and offers Safe Space training to maintain a welcoming environment. The university also has a history of supporting the You Can Play project, a national campaign to rid sports at all levels of homophobia.
“At the end of the day, I’m still Mo. I’m still a basketball player. I’m here to play basketball,” she says. “Sexuality matters, but not as much when it comes to stuff like this.”
Smith says her whole team is close, but she has built strong friendships with a few teammates. Sometimes after practice, she says, they sit around and talk about relationship stuff and the differences between dating women and dating men. As the only bisexual person on the team, she has a unique perspective; she says it has made for some great conversations and has led to some really close friendships.
Life as a college basketball player certainly isn’t easy. The practice schedule is demanding, and the travel schedule for games can make classes that much harder. Fortunately, at least for Smith, her LGBTQ identity doesn’t add to the difficulty of being a student-athlete.
At least that more often seems to be the case for lesbians and bi women in sports.
“I think there is much more of a stigma for men,” Smith says of gay and bi male athletes.
Kent State Women’s Associate Head Coach Fran Recchia agrees. In 10 years of coaching at the college level, she says she has worked with a number of young LGBTQ women, including some who came out long before they arrived on campus.
“There probably isn’t as much [stigma], especially in women’s basketball because there is such a large community and there are so many coaches and professional athletes who are out,” she says.
Contrasted with professional men’s basketball and the single out player in its history (Jason Collins), there are at least 13 out women playing in the WNBA today.
Kent’s women’s basketball program tries very hard to foster a sense of family among its players, coaches and staff. Smith isn’t the first LGBTQ student-athlete to come through the program and won’t be the last.
“Coming out is a very scary thing, but the community is very open and welcoming,” Recchia says. “The level of support they would receive from the coaching staff and their teammates would be well beyond what they think they would.”
Austin Mariasy is photojournalism major at Kent State University. He’d like to profile and photograph more LGBTQ athletes in Ohio for Prizm. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FIND OUT MORE
Outsports is a website that covers LGBTQ athletes and LGBTQ issues in sports. Visit outsports.com.
Follow the Kent State women’s basketball team at kentstatesports.com or on Twitter at @KentStateWbb.
The NCAA women’s basketball tournament starts on Friday, March 22 and concludes on Sunday, April 7 with the national championship game in Tampa. Follow the action at espn.com/womens-basketball.