Out of bounds

As the women’s head soccer coach at Belmont University, Lisa Howe had witnessed her team experience success both on and off the field. During her six-year tenure, she and her team acquired a number of awards and accolades for their performance, as well as various honors for academic achievement. But in December 2010, Howe suddenly announced that she was resigning from her post after a mutual agreement with the university. Just days prior to her departure, Howe had acknowledged her homosexuality with the team and shared that she and her partner were expecting a baby.

Since then, Howe's story has been featured in national gay publications such as The Advocate and Out Magazine, and she was recently profiled in a segment of ESPN's Outside the Lines. As the debate over gay rights intensifies on both the local and national levels, Howe stands as a pillar of integrity and source of pride for Nashville and the GLBT community as a whole.

Throughout this controversial separation, Howe has been vocal about her unwavering faith. Her life is a prime example that being gay and being a Christian are not mutually exclusive. Howe discusses her career and plans for the future with Out & About Newspaper.

O&A: Tell us about your family background.

I grew up in Dallas, Texas with my mom, dad, and younger sister. Dad was Baptist and Mom was Methodist. So we split Sundays between the two churches.

O&A: Where did you go to college?

I went to Barry University in Miami. Barry is a Catholic University but my family was pretty open-minded. I graduated in 1991 with a degree in Sports Management.

O&A: What happened after college?

I stayed in Florida and coached high school soccer in the Fort Lauderdale area. I also got involved in coaching at summer camps sponsored by various universities like Duke and Clemson. That resulted in great connections allowing me to network so I could start coaching college soccer.

My first college job was coaching at Berry College in Rome, Ga. in 1994. One year later, I took a job at Jacksonville State in Alabama. The mid Nineties was when many schools started female soccer teams for gender equality, so I was in the right place at the right time to be hired in a full-time position.

O&A: What was the coming out process like for you?

Well, I came out as a 33 year old adult. I was well into my career by that time. So one of the biggest fears I had was that coming out would hurt my career.

My family was okay with it. I’m not saying it wasn’t difficult for them. But there was never a point that I wasn’t welcome at home. My family has always been good about having open dialogue with me. I’m lucky in that regard.

O&A: When did you start working at Belmont?

In 2005 I was brought in to coach the women’s soccer team.

O&A: Did the team receive any special awards under your leadership?

My team was conference tournament champions in 2008 and 2009. For all six years I was coaching, we received the Team Academic Award, an academic award given by the Soccer Coaches Association of America for academic achievement in keeping a team GPA of 3.0 or higher.

O&A: Were there any special awards that you received?

In 2009, I was the Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year, and in 2010 I was publicly recognized by the NCAA because my team’s academic progress rate was always in the top 10% of the country. The academic progress rate looks at the team GPA, graduation rate, and overall retention of students.

O&A: How did you meet your partner?

I met my partner Wendy Holleman in 1995 when I was coaching at Jacksonville State. She was a student, and at the time, we were just friends. She graduated and was hired as the assistant coach. Our friendship continued to grow and we became a couple in 2002. 

In July 2010, we had a commitment ceremony at her parents' lake house in Texas. Right before the ceremony my mom said, “You don’t have to do this for us. We accept your relationship and already consider you two as married…as a part of the family.” It was a beautiful time for our entire family.

Currently, Wendy coaches girl’s soccer at the University School of Nashville. We had been trying to get pregnant since May 2009. Finally, in August 2010, Wendy became pregnant. 

O&A: Do you have a church home here in Nashville?

We have been visiting several churches over the past few months. We’ve been to Covenant of the Cross, Holy Trinity Community Church, and East End United Methodist. The church we’ve been the most active in is St. Augustine’s Episcopal Chapel on the campus of Vanderbilt. They’ve been wonderful to us. Back in December 2010, they even threw us a baby shower. They invited a variety of people from the community to come and there must have been over 100 guests. We only knew 15 or 20 of them. But Chaplain Becca Stevens came to us and said, “You are probably going through a hard time right now and we would like to shower you with love. Will you allow us to do that?” That meant so much to us.

So we’re having a good time church surfing and want to find a church home since Wendy and I are about to have a baby.

O&A: When you departed from Belmont University, did your faith play a role in that situation?

The best thing to come from this is the fact that my relationship with Jesus has become so much stronger. I have had to lean on the Lord to get through this time of not having a job and having a baby on the way. I’ve had to pray and realize that I’m not in control of this situation. I had been in control of so much of my life…I had my job, my partner, and had everything in place where it needed to be. But then there was the morning back in December of 2010 that I was on the cover of the Tennessean, and I realized, I wasn’t in control of anything.

O&A: What are your plans for the future?

I’m applying for jobs here, there and everywhere! We would like to stay here in Nashville, but we’re open to other areas too. The University School of Nashville where Wendy is employed has been very supportive of us through this entire process.

O&A: What advice do you have for any LGBT faculty or students still at Belmont?

I want to encourage them to keep doing what they are doing. They’ve done a good job of mobilizing, of being unified and asking for certain policies to be in place. Belmont is a good place. And if they can get some of those policies implemented, it will help students have a richer college experience and make a better work environment for the faculty.

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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