Boston’s FLAG Flag Football League is honored to award its fourth-annual $2,500 youth scholarship to Phil Batler from Newton South High School.
Phil is one of the fastest high school sprinters in the country, having won the 300 meter dash at both the Dual County League and Massachusetts Division I State Championships. During the summer of 2013, Phil won the New England Junior Olympic title in the 100m dash. At the New England Championships his junior year, Phil placed second and qualified for nationals. As a senior, Phil led his team to their first league title in three years. During his four years running varsity indoor and outdoor track in Newton, Phil set school records at five different distances
Phil came out as an openly gay student during his junior year. “I stopped trying to blend into the straight crowd and wanted people to see that athleticism and sexuality are unrelated,” he said. “I made my sexuality unapologetically apparent in the hopes that just one person on the team looked up to me as an athletic role model who is proud of their differences.” To do this, Phil began to compete wearing a pride rainbow-patterned sweatband “to show that my queer identity was present with me in the hyper-masculine world of sports.” He admits to still being nervous at times when he wears it, unsure of how people will respond and what they’ll think of him, “but every time I cross the finish line in first, pumping my fist with a pride flag, I know I’ve made the right choice.”
Off the track, Phil has taken numerous initiatives to make sports at Newton South safer for and more inclusive of LGBT students. Using his platform as president of his school’s GSA (Gender and Sexuality Awareness Club, which he wanted changed from Gay/Straight Alliance in order to be more inclusive), Phil addressed 130 fellow students, speaking about his own experiences as an openly gay athlete and also about stereotypes faced by members of the LGBT community. In order to combat the homophobic bullying in the locker room, Phil worked with his GSA and school newspaper to encourage queer athletes to share their stories in the paper, as he did with his own. “During my time at South,” he reflects, “I have definitely noticed a shift in locker room slang.”
Phil’s school counselor, James Medeiros, describes these efforts with the school newspaper as “one of [Phil’s] most outstanding examples of making the community safer for LGBTQ student athletes. In his own quiet, confident way, Phil teaches us all to accept ourselves for who we are and to always remain positive. He is an outstanding role model for all students, no matter why they are.” Medeiros explains that Phil “goes about his business without a lot of fanfare. Quietly confident about his many achievements, he possesses an enviable and careful work ethic that has enabled him to develop a profound capacity for knowledge, observation, and leadership.”
Bob Parlin, a Newton South history and social science teacher who co-founded his school’s GSA in 1991, describes Phil as “a superb activist,” and “one of the most eager student GSA leaders we have ever had.” He explains that “whether he is putting together a plan of action for the GSA to talk with middle school students about LGBT issues or fighting for a gender-neutral bathroom for our transgender students, Phil has been the leader who oversaw all of the GSA’s initiatives of the past year.” In addition to being the GSA advisor, Parlin has taught Phil in both his freshman and senior years and describes him as a “curious, diligent, and independent student who is capable of tremendous insight. His outstanding achievement in the class speaks volumes to what he is capable of as a bright scholar, a dedicated citizen, and an advocate for social justice.”
Phil speaks powerfully about the importance of being out and living authentically. “You can lecture people for hours about ending homophobia, but it is the presence of a queer person, on the team and in the locker room, that truly encourages acceptance. I hope that because of my actions there is an athlete somewhere inspired by my success and pride to be comfortable with their own identity.”
Phil plans to attend Brown University in the fall and major in Gender and Sexuality with hopes of becoming a civil rights attorney. All of us in FLAG Flag Football are thrilled to support the education of such an outstanding young man.