Former Belmont women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe speaks softly, but with clarity. Her voice level rarely rises. It always maintains a calm, comfortable consistency. She is more likely to raise her voice over a blown crossing pass on the field, rather than champion for civil rights.
But last week she exited amid allegations of discrimination against her sexual orientation. Her players say she was fired after revealing that she and her same-sex partner were having a child.
So now, she is speaking up.
“It’s definitely not something that I wished for,” Howe said in an interview with the Vision on Friday. “But I do believe given this opportunity of national attention, that I have a responsibility to go ahead and speak up for my rights and the rights of my children and my family.”
She said she also wanted to set a good example and use the recent media attention to speak out against discrimination.
“When we see in society that young people are being bullied or when we have gays or lesbians or those perceived as gays and lesbians taking their own lives, I think we have a problem,” Howe said.
“So, for me to continue hiding, even when people properly assume that I was a lesbian and in a relationship … perpetuates the bullying and doesn’t take a stand against it and say ‘We can be accepted and we can be safe.’”
Howe described the past week of her life as “overwhelming”—in both good and bad ways.
“One of the main things that turned it into a positive was watching those Belmont students and their faculty unify and be motivated and start pushing for something that is right in today’s world,” Howe said.
Belmont students, faculty and alumni staged several protests, rallies, and events throughout the week to support Howe and her partner. Howe’s partner is expecting a baby due in May.
“One of the reasons that we started talking to media is that I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to properly express my gratitude,” Howe said.
Howe couldn’t discuss the details behind her recent departure from Belmont, but did say that the school exceeded her expectations in a positive way while there.
“In my employee orientation, there was a big push in diversity, so that was comforting,” Howe said. “And then, once you are there at Belmont and you see the population of the students, it’s probably the most diverse and most liberal Christian school I had ever seen.”
Still, her players contend that she was ousted by administration based on her sexual orientation. On Wednesday night, however, Belmont president Dr. Bob Fisher said, “Sexual orientation has not been considered when making hiring, promotion, or dismissal decisions at Belmont.”
Howe and her attorney, Abby Rubenfeld, praised Fisher on his “new policy,” and hoped to see it in writing soon.
“My hope, or what I heard in back-to-back statements, was that there will be a policy in place and it will include sexual orientation in the nondiscrimination clause. I thought that was clear,” Howe said.
“I would address this not only to Belmont but any establishment. I think it’s important to have in your writing and in your attitude as far as nondiscrimination.”
As far as the next step for Howe, she wants to continue coaching, but isn’t keen on leaving Nashville.
“Coaching is my life’s work,” Howe said. “I’ve been coaching for 17 years. I have a lot of longevity in the profession. I certainly think that I could pick up and do a good job somewhere else.”
“At the same time, kind of what we’ve been through in this past week, the people in Nashville have really reached out to a new family and it’s kind of hard to want to uproot a new family and go somewhere where you don’t know people and don’t have that support.”
Several people, including the Rev. Becca Stevens, will host a baby shower for the couple next Friday at St. Augustine’s Chapel on the Vanderbilt University campus.
“I would really say, people in the community of Nashville have really made this feel like home,” she said. “So it’s hard to say what I’ll be doing in the future.”