Finding acceptance as a queer scout player

Jaylen Williams has been a member of the USC women’s basketball team’s scout team since he first came to USC. With the team, he found a community that accepted him for who he is. (Jaylen Williams | Daily Trojan)

My college journey began at a small, all-boys school called Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Though I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and excelled academically, I knew there were bigger and better opportunities. This led me to USC, where, not too long after applying, I was accepted and knew that I would be heading to the West Coast. 

This process began in February 2020, only a month before everybody’s world would change completely. Fast forward to the summer of 2020, I was back home in Fort Wayne trying to figure out if my classes would be in-person or online, if I would move out to Los Angeles even if studying remotely and making many other big decisions. 

Fortunately, I had a friend from high school already attending USC, and a spot opened in the house she was living in. I instantly called her and told her I’d take it, and now, I’m a senior and still living in the same house that allowed me to leave Indiana and see things I hadn’t before. 

The 2020-21 academic year was entirely online, so there wasn’t a lot of mingling going on between students. However, that would all change when the 2021-22 school year rolled around. This was the year I would finally attend my first in-person class, meet friends in the flesh, walk down Trousdale Parkway for a game day and finally begin to create the memories that I have heard Trojans of the past and present rave about. 

I remember my first in-person class at USC — abnormal psychology with Patricia George. I walked into the classroom and picked my seat, and not too long after I did, a girl sat down next to me who was clearly a USC athlete. I took a random guess and asked her if she played basketball for USC, and she nodded in agreement. 

Before the class ended, she asked me if I played basketball and, if so, whether I’d like to be a scout player for the team. I was filled with excitement and eagerly said that I would, of course, not knowing that this decision would be one of the best decisions I’d make during my college career. 

I’ve now been on the scout team for two years and have nothing but the fondest memories with the women’s basketball team. From winning a scout team race and being deemed “fastest on the team” to being able to open up and be my authentic self around the players and staff, it meant a lot to me. 

I am an openly queer individual, but I didn’t let that side of me show to the team initially. I recall the first time I revealed my sexuality to a member of the team. I was on the sideline talking to a player who is now a great friend of mine: Madison Campbell. 

For those who don’t know Maddie, she is a strong and passionate individual who has exuded some of the most perseverance that I have ever seen. Nonetheless, we were on the sideline, just talking, and somehow we got on to the topic of our significant others. She mentioned that she had a boyfriend — a college player in Texas — and asked me if I was seeing anyone. 

I knew Maddie as a strong woman of faith, so I wasn’t sure what her reaction would be if I told her about my boyfriend, Ben. Yet, I found the courage to share my identity and my boyfriend with her, and her response was nothing but appreciation and happiness for me. 

All we did was talk about our boyfriends for the rest of that practice. Maddie’s reaction allowed me to be more comfortable and willing to share my full identity with the other players, the scout team and the coaching staff. I tried to not to make it a huge deal — to not get on a podium and announce to everybody that I had a boyfriend. However, when it would come up in conversation, I wouldn’t hide that part of me anymore.

It is common for those who come out to experience a change in the ways they interact with others. I would much rather have people love and support me based on the genuine and authentic growth of our relationship than have it just based on my sexuality. That’s what everyone in the women’s basketball program did. 

The coaches didn’t expect less of me or push me any less than the other scout players, and the girls on the team didn’t try to make me their “gay best friend” or label me as the “gay scout player,” so I have nothing but the utmost respect and appreciation for the entire women’s basketball program.

I reflect on my college journey from being a sophomore transfer student to living in a house with 11 strangers to stepping foot on campus for the first time my junior year and not knowing what to expect. While thinking about all that, I can confidently say that the women’s basketball team has provided me with not only an opportunity, but a level of comfort, respect and love that I can’t imagine having found anywhere else here at USC.