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Schuyler Bailar Headlines ISU's LGBTQA Cultural Dinner

Smiling man
Illinois State University
Schuyler Bailar says "I wanted to show younger people...that you can totally be yourself and do what you love."

Schuyler Bailar was the first openly transgender NCAA swimmer and first trans male athlete documented to compete in Division 1 for any sport.

Bailar was the keynote speaker at Friday's LGBTQA Cultural Dinner at Illinois State University.

Despite his accolades and story, the athlete said he does not consider himself a role model.

“I think that’s for other people to decide, but what I do say about myself is that I’m somebody who can prove that this is possible,” Bailar said. “That was my primary goal when I came out, to be public about it because I wanted to show younger people, specifically young trans athletes like myself, that you can totally be yourself and do what you love.”

Bailar was recruited by Harvard to swim on their women’s team after high school. Taking a year break between high school and college, Bailar transitioned. He felt that this transition could potentially squander all the hard work he had put into swimming. 

“One of the biggest struggles for me during my transition,” Bailar said, “was wondering if I wanted to give up being a female athlete. I initially was not going to transition because of that, because I valued my own success and my own hard work in the sport. But I ended up deciding I needed to prioritize my own happiness, my own authenticity, and for me to compete as a woman felt inauthentic to me because that’s not who I am.”

Bailar said he feels the need to be outspoken about who he is because throughout his young life he did not see much representation for queer and trans people in athletics.

“I need kids to see that. And so I will be open about this and that’s 100% the reason I do the speaking. That impact to me … I get almost daily emails and messages from people saying that awareness of my story has saved their life because they see possibility now and that means the absolute world to me.”

GLT's interview with Schuyler Bailar.

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Sean Newgent is a senior journalism major at Illinois State University. He's an intern for the GLT newsroom.