By Dan Woog
Hudson Taylor – one of the top 197-pound college wrestlers in the country – chastises his University of Maryland teammates whenever they use anti-gay language.
He wrestled with a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his headgear, and donates each month to the organization.
How gay is he? Not at all. He and his girlfriend will be married next year, when she finishes law school.
Taylor is rarer in college sports than even openly gay athletes. He’s a strong male supporter of LGBT civil rights, someone who talks the talk, walks the walk, and does it in a sport so misunderstood that wrestlers often feel compelled to flaunt their own masculinity – by putting down others.
“Wrestlers always get questions about grabbing each other,” Taylor says. “It’s not a sexual sport, but it looks like it. Some wrestlers think they need to show they’re ‘men.'”
So they use words that Taylor won’t utter. “I hate that language,” he says. After being elected captain sophomore year – a rare honor – he realized he no longer worried what others thought of him. “Being captain freed me to speak and act as I thought fit,” Taylor says.
He called out his teammates when they used anti-gay terms. There was – and still is – some resentment. But, he says, “to be a successful team, everyone has to think of themselves as leaders. To be a leader, you have to be aware of differences – and respect those differences.”
He traces his open-mindedness to his non-judgmental parents. That, says Taylor, allowed him to see others in “inclusive ways.”
Religion is important, too. A relative was one of the first Christian missionaries in China. His mother went to a Bible college, and his sister attends one now.
“That helps me bridge the gap,” Taylor says. “I talk with my parents about Bible verses, and about gay issues.”
In high school Taylor recognized that people made “unnecessary divides” based on criteria like sexual orientation. But he also credits Blair Academy – a prestigious boarding institution – with exposing him to “lots of people with lots of different ideas.”
On the Maryland wrestling team, Taylor says his greatest contribution was to promote “word consciousness. That’s the root of so many problems. People don’t realize how hurtful language can be. I speak out.” His message: “How we speak dictates how we act. And how we act dictates who we are.”
The coaching staff has been very supportive. When a gay sports website profiled him, his coaches asked if he wanted the interview cross-posted on the Maryland site. He decided against it – in part because life was already so hectic. The Outsports column swamped him with hundreds of e-mails.
“I heard so many amazing, powerful stories,” he marvels. “Some of them made me cry. To me, my beliefs are not shocking; they’re part of who I am. But I was shocked that people were so moved by my position. I heard from kids petrified about coming out to their family, or thinking about killing themselves. That stuff was real.”
This season – as a senior – Taylor put the HRC logo on his headgear. It was a difficult decision, and did not sit well with teammates. With regret, he removed the sticker.
“At the end of the day, it’s about our team,” he says. “The crap I got took away from the message I wanted to send.”
He found a much broader pulpit on Facebook. There, he says, “I can express exactly how I feel. I put up links and post videos. That’s reached a lot of people.”
Inevitably, people call Taylor a closet case. He doesn’t care.
“To be vocal, I had to break away from what people think about me,” he says. “If that’s where they want to take me, that’s their issue. This is about so much more than sexuality. It’s about people. I’m completely confident with who I am. That’s all that matters.”
That confidence has taken Taylor far. This winter he won the ACC tournament, and placed fourth at the national championships.
“I wanted to win, of course, but it’s a question of perspective,” he says. “Coming so close and not reaching my goal, it’s tough. But when I take a step back, I’m tremendously proud of what I accomplished.”
Taylor is taking next year off. He hopes to coach at the college level, before heading to law school.
Politics could be in his future. Taylor says, “I’m not overly confrontational. But I am very firm in my beliefs. I think I can bridge a lot of gaps.”
Oh, yeah. There’s that little thing called a wedding coming up, too.
So how does a gay rights activist propose to his girlfriend?
Taylor did it after he and Lia Alexandra Mandaglio watched the movie “Milk.” He gave her a copy of Martin Luther King’s book “Why We Can’t Wait” – signed by the author.
We could call that “really gay.” But in Taylor Hudson’s case, it’s just really, really cool.