Editor’s Note — This Q&A is part of a weekly conversation series that is celebrating Pride Month on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Medium page.
his week, meet Emily Cheramie, an English major with minors in art, math, and women and gender studies from Georgetown, Kentucky. As a walk-on for Husker Rifle, she is using her platform to advocate for others and ensure being queer in athletics is normalized.
Talk about learning to embrace your sexuality and working to ensure others don’t experience bullying/discrimination like you did.
I grew up in a pretty conservative household. Living in the south, attending church every Sunday, and going to Catholic school from fifth to 12th grade didn’t help much either. I was never exposed to the LGBTQ+ community, at least never in a positive fashion. It was honestly really hard to accept myself and I was scared and felt really alone most of the time. It took a long time to really know myself — I mean I would say I’m still not all the way there. There seems to be things I’m still figuring out all the time. For me, I had to let go of certain people in my life, those who didn’t accept me for me, and I also had to let go of my faith. Learning to accept myself became so much easier when I did finally tell my friends what was happening. They accepted me without question and helped me find my “normal” again.
What also really helped, surprisingly, was telling my track teammates in high school. For the most part, they were all pretty indifferent. They were happy I was happier, of course. But for them, as long as I was able to score points at meets, they really couldn’t care; which I will say is definitely not the best scenario for everyone, but at the time it made me feel so normal and was what I needed. To me, this is what I want for everyone. I want athletics to get to a point where someone coming out isn’t news, it isn’t a spectacle, and they’re not treated any different than their teammates. It’s just a normal day at the office. Because to me, that would mean that being a part of the queer community and in athletics is normal, which it already should be. That’s the big focus of a group that I founded this past semester, the Big Ten Queer Student-Athlete Coalition. Our mission is to make the conference and each member school a better and safer place to be queer in athletics. We want to create a space where everyone can come as they are, build community, create visibility, break down stereotypes, destigmatize the athletic sphere, and create lasting change. Advocacy plays a big part in what we do — making sure that we advocate for our queer peers, but also for all of those in the LGBTQ+ community so that they can also enjoy being in athletics like staff, coaches, and fans.
You also overcame obstacles in coming to Nebraska as a walk-on. What was that like and what motivated you?
It was honestly terrifying. I don’t think I’ve ever really said it before, but I was scared most of first semester. Scared of not being good enough, of making a mistake coming all the way out to Nebraska to school, of failing, of letting down my team, of disappointing my coaches who took a chance on me. It was a big transition from high school with much much higher stakes. But I knew that I had to push past that fear so I just tried to work as hard as I could. I felt like I had everything to prove, and I did whatever it took to show my coaches and teammates that I belonged here. My goal going into college was, and still is, to compete for and win a national title so I did everything I could to achieve that goal. That and knowing, at least in my own mind, that I had something to prove was what motivated me through my season on the team and I think honestly helped make me into the athlete I am today.
Being a student-athlete at Nebraska provides a big platform. Can you talk about lending your voice to causes you’re passionate about to ignite change?
When I came in as a freshman, we had this mini-seminar class we all took at the beginning of the school year to help us transition from high school to college athletics and how to balance the new demands we would have. I remember one of the first things they told us was that no matter what sport you played, everyone was now going to be watching us because we are Nebraska athletes. There’s a lot of power in that, a lot of power in the brand recognition that comes with being a Husker and so it became important to me to use that power in a positive way. Supporting Black Lives Matter and Nebraska’s MSAC (Minority Student-Athlete Collective) is incredibly important to me as well as advocating for the LGBTQ+ community and talking about and spreading awareness about mental health. It’s important to me to speak out about these issues because the more they are talked about, the more people know about them, and my hope is, the faster that change can happen. But also, how can we hope to change what is wrong if we never talk about it? We have to address the problems that exist in our society in order to better it, to make it a better, more equitable, and fair place to be for everyone.
How do your involvements on campus allow you to make an impact?
I think that my involvement with the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Gender and Sexual Identity brings a different perspective to the conversations that we have; the first one of being an undergraduate student and the second of being a student-athlete. I’m able to bring up certain issues or concerns that others wouldn’t think of or know about. Being able to do so will, in the long run, bring the voice and perspective of students into a space that is often thought of as only being accessible by administrators. In a bigger scale, the work that I’m doing with QSAC will benefit not only student-athletes at Nebraska but across the Big Ten and hopefully extend in the wider realm of athletics. Though QSAC’s mission is focused on student-athletes — by creating more inclusive spaces in athletics, changing individual and conference policies, and destigmatization and creating visibility — all facets of the athletic sphere will become a better and safer place for queer people to exist. So not just student-athletes, but coaches, staff, fans, and even the casual observer can feel welcome and accepted.
Is there anything you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
OK, I know it’s cheesy and cliché, but I want to leave this world in a better place than how I found it. I want to make the world of athletics a better, safer and more enjoyable place for everyone. My hope for the future is that coming out to your team doesn’t inspire fear, stress or anxiety anymore. I want to ensure that being queer in athletics is normalized.
What or who inspires/motivates you?
My biggest source of inspiration comes from my mentor DaWon Baker. He was our Diversity and Inclusion Director in athletics, and he was the one who really inspired me to get more involved and to keep pushing to make things better. Those who motivate me are my incredible friends in QSAC. The process of trying to make athletics a more accepting place is difficult and oftentimes exhausting, but being surrounded by such amazing people makes all of the trying moments worth it. They are always there for me and there isn’t anything in this world I wouldn’t do for them.
What is your advice to other Huskers looking to make an impact?
My advice to others who want to make an impact is twofold. First, find people who are interested and passionate about what you’re interested and passionate about. Even if you think there isn’t anyone else out there, I guarantee there is. Finding your group of people isn’t just about having more people for your cause, which is of course great, but it’s also about connecting with others who you can rely, trust and lean on. Sometimes, actually, oftentimes, creating change and making an impact is difficult, draining work, but having people around you who you know will always be there for you makes the hard times so much better.
Second, do what you can. We are all capable of different levels of engagement and availability. Just because you can’t go out to a protest or be rewriting laws doesn’t mean you can’t have an impact. Do what you are capable of. No act is too small to create change and make an impact. Have conversations with friends and family, make posts on your social media, email your local and state officials. The only way you can’t make an impact is by doing nothing at all.