AMHERST — Avery Stone, 22, feels as though she’s always skating on thin ice.
Now a senior, the Amherst College hockey player hasn’t scored any goals in her college career. But she is making a difference in her goal to fight homophobia. Recently, she penned an opinion article in the Washington Post titled, “For gay athletes, the US isn’t much more tolerant than Russia.”
The piece was critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in advance of the Winter Olympics signed into law last year a bill prohibiting “gay propaganda,” but it also condemned homophobia in the United States, including at her own school.
“When I chose to attend a liberal arts college in New England, I assumed I would encounter an environment accepting of gay athletes,” wrote the English major. “I was wrong.
“At Amherst, women have told me I’m ‘too girly to be gay.’ Men have told me I’m ‘too hot to be a dyke.’ I’ve been bullied by a teammate. I’ve been hit on by a female coach.”
The teammate she says bullied her as a freshman is still on the team. Stone says she handled the matter herself. The coach in question resigned in October 2012. Stone says she doesn’t want to name her or discuss the incident.
“I’m just trying to get through the season,” she said. “I don’t want to be the story, I want to help tell the story.”
Amherst College had no comment on the incident.
“We don’t comment on personnel matters, period,” said Peter Rooney, director of public affairs for Amherst College. He added that the college has given “unequivocal support” to LGBT athletes.
But for Stone, an aspiring journalist who has written pieces for the Huffington Post and Fortune.com and interned at Self Magazine, the pain remains just under the surface.
“Being told [last year by a teammate] that I would do something that would intentionally hurt our team is the worst thing that someone has ever told me,” she said.
Amherst women’s hockey captain Courtney Baranek supports Stone.
“She’s definitely courageous,” said Baranek, a psychology major in her senior year. “She doesn’t go around bragging about it. She goes out there and speaks her opinion, which is a very courageous thing to do. On the ice as well, she’s always courageous. She only sees out of one eye.”
Stone said she was born with no vision in her right eye and has terrible peripheral vision and no depth perception. But her vision is crystal clear on the issues of gay rights.
Although she applauds the US sending gay athletes such as Billie Jean King, Brian Boitano, and two-time Olympian Caitlin Cahow as part of the US delegation to the Sochi Olympics, she believes that’s not enough.
“I think it’s amazing we’re sending these delegates to Sochi and trying to make an example of LGBT rights,” said Stone. “While we try to do that, it’s a big opportunity and a dare to take a hard look at ourselves.”
That picture isn’t pretty, she says.
“We can’t be congratulating ourselves, because homophobia in sports is the last bastion of homophobia in this country,” she said. “It’s still alive and well.”
The Providence native says she heard gay slurs when she was playing club hockey at age 9. But when she came out as a junior at Phillips Academy in Andover, there was widespread acceptance on her hockey, lacrosse, and field hockey teams. She was named captain of the hockey team.
Her confidence was at a high level when she arrived at Amherst and became co-head of the local Pride Alliance, an organization whose mission is to “promote understanding and foster discussion between diverse sexual orientations.”
“I remember when I went to my first Pride meeting at Amherst, and the subject was, ‘What can we do to change Amherst?’ ” she said. “Someone said, ‘The athletes suck.’
“Well, I am an athlete. So you’re in two worlds, but you’re kind of pulled between them and not part of either one. So there was definitely that feeling of isolation.”
She has described herself as a “poster child” because she is one of the few Amherst athletes to come out. She says closeted athletes sympathize with her privately but ignore her publicly.
Now in her final year, she’s finally feeling more comfortable and confident again.
“My new coaches, Jeff [Matthews] and Liz [Gallinaro], are doing a great job of setting a standard of respect among teammates and that shows itself this year,” she said. “I’m not looking over my shoulder as much.”
Both coaches say they are proud of Stone both on and off the ice.
“She’s going to be a journalist, we want her to make a difference,” said Matthews, the second-year head coach. “We support her.”
Gallinaro, the assistant coach, says Stone is a gamer, coming back from a torn ACL and being the only one on the team to play both offense and defense.
“Nobody can take away the fact that Avery works her butt off every day,” she said. “And they respect her for that.”
She does things on the ice that don’t show up on the scoresheet.
“She’s an energy player,” said Matthews. “Her best part is her intensity, her skating, She never stops.”
Stone and some teammates took part in the “You Can Play” project, in which gay athletes and straight allies team up in videos that preach respect.
“She was beaming,” recalled Gallinaro.
She is also featured in photographer Jeff Sheng’s “Fearless” project, which documents LGBT athletes and was exhibited on many college campuses, including Amherst.
In April 2012 at Bryant University in Rhode Island, just before Stone was set to speak at an assembly, she learned that Sheng’s exhibit had been stolen.
“I felt like a target had been placed on my back,” said Stone. “I felt like, in some way, my agency [Pride Alliance] and my feeling of pride had been stolen along with Jeff’s photos.”
In a Huffington Post blog, she chided the president of the university for not immediately issuing a statement condemning what she called a “hate crime.”
She’s not afraid of meeting Putin face to face, either.
“I would say, ‘Open your eyes,’ ” she said, raising her voice. “ ‘Everyone is a human. Wake up.’ ”
She also hopes for the day when sexual orientation isn’t a big deal in the US.
“I would love for our country to be in that place where it doesn’t have to be about the big coming-out story anymore,” she said, “that it could just be a human story.”Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misstated the reason the school declined to comment on an incident described in the article. Amherst does not comment on personnel matters.