Call Diana Cutaia an expert, and she may insist she has just learned from her experiences in life.
The fact is both claims would be valid. Cutaia, the owner and founder of Coaching Peace Consulting, is a sought-after diversity consultant these days to schools, organizations, and corporations ranging from the NCAA to Nike.
Cutaia’s who’s who client list isn’t just interested in her past as a college athletic department director, a winning women’s basketball coach, or the unique take on coaching that earned her the nickname “Coach Peace.” (The nickname came because she believes that character- and team-building are more important than winning, and that coaching should never involve berating, shouting or any form of aggression.) Her clients also want to tap her wisdom as an out lesbian who recognizes the need for formal antibullying efforts and gender and sexual orientation equality provisions in college and professional sports programs across the nation.
“I’ve been out while working in sports for more than a decade,” the 40-year-old Cutaia says. “And that may seem like a small thing, but barely more than a decade ago many people could not have said the same in coaching and management. So as we hear and see more athletes share their sexual identity without reservation, we need to make sure we prepare for them, so that they know there is a place for them in the game, whatever their game.”
Cutaia says her primary mission is to coach schools, athletic departments, and even individual teams on how to groom students to be leaders and how to foster “balanced and accepting atmospheres.” She also gives workshops on Title IX implementation and sportsmanship. And she has conducted diversity and gender equity workshops for the NCAA and colleges and universities, including, most recently, Southern Vermont College and Salve Regina University.
Cutaia, who also serves as the women’s director for the Cambridge-based Gay and Lesbian Athletics Foundation, says that when she was younger she struggled to find her place, passing as straight — even marrying a man— until she was in her late 20s.
As she prepared to attend the Nike LGBT Sports Summit in Beaverton, Ore., from June 12-15, the former athletic director for Boston’s Wheelock College said she would try to drive home the point that veteran National Basketball Association player Jason Collins’ recent coming out as gay just scratches the surface.
Collins, like Cutaia, allowed people to assume he was straight for years; he was engaged to a woman for eight years.
“I’m proud of Jason and happy for him, but we still have a long way to go in terms of athletes’ feeling comfortable about being out and being themselves, especially male athletes,” Cutaia says. “Look at it this way: If Jason isn’t picked up by another team, then he will really be another athlete who came out after his career ended.” Collins’ revelation would have been more impactful on overall attitudes toward gay athletes had he come out while still an active player, Cutaia says.
“At the same time — and this is why it’s important for college and professional programs to have lesson plans and curriculums in place — Jason is to be commended because it has always been tougher for gay male athletes than women,” Cutaia says. “When Britney Griner, who was a huge star in college and is now in the WNBA, came out recently, people shrugged. In a strange way we have accepted gay female athletes, because of the stereotype that sports are manly, and therefore women who excel at sports must be manly. And we know how that translates. Manly means lesbian.”
Gay male athletes have yet to feel comfortable enough to defy the similar stereotype that they’re not manly enough, Cutaia says.
“There is the persistent rumor that as many as six NFL players are preparing to come out together,” Cutaia says. “Now that’s something that would take us leaps and bounds ahead in terms of progress and attitude. When we come out means everything. But ultimately, what’s most important is that gay and lesbian athletes reach the point where they feel they can concentrate on being the best in their sports and not have to hide who they are. Anything I can do to help that along, I’m glad to do.”James H. Burnett III is a Globe reporter. He can be reached at james.burnett @globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamesburnett.