For Ball State Women’s Golf head coach Katherine Mowat, the baby shower Ball State Athletics held for her daughter, Myla, was a very special day. It was one of the only baby showers the department has thrown, but even more than that, it was one of the ways Mowat was able to be more authentic with her coworkers.
For Mowat, having her first child is what she calls her “coming out card.” She said the athletic department throwing a baby shower displayed her coworkers' support of her relationship with her now-wife, Mandy Harrison.
“I think a lot of my colleagues knew we were in a relationship, but it wasn’t actually declared or spoken until we said, ‘We want to share something with you: we’re having a baby,’” Mowat said. “Every action that was taken as a result of us bringing our first child into the world and celebrating us and our family was certainly very special and meaningful.”
Mowat grew up just outside Toronto and came to the U.S. to play golf collegiately at the University of Iowa from 1997-99 and the University of Louisville for the remainder of her undergraduate career before graduating in 2001.
It wasn’t until Mowat was in college that she realized she was a lesbian.
“Looking back, things made a lot of sense, but I wasn’t exposed to anyone in the LGBTQ community growing up, and it was still kind of taboo and there wasn’t much conversation around it,” she said. “It was a challenging realization, for sure, because I was very conflicted about what it meant for me, my family, the people around me and my life.”
Mowat said she came out to her family a few years later “one-by-one,” starting with her mom, then her brothers and, finally, her dad. By telling her mom first, she felt it eased a burden for her and helped her tell her brothers and dad and have difficult conversations after.
“That process went way better than I could have imagined,” Mowat said. “I think it was way more about my own internalized homophobia and the messages I received growing up … [that made me think] it was going to be hard and it wasn’t.”
Even though Mowat had come out to her family, she knew she would still have to come out to her student-athletes. Mowat said it was challenging to balance each part of her life, especially when she was dating Mandy because her family knew they were together, but her athletes only truly knew the two lived together.
The two weren’t trying to hide their relationship, but at the time, they were still not allowed to get married, so there was no real timeline for their relationship. It wasn’t until one of her Ball State athletes asked if they were together — four years into their relationship — that she told her team.
“I thanked her because, since that day … there’s really been no going back,” Mowat said. “They’ve just always known and understood it’s just who I am. We’re a family, and I’m the same coach as I was before they knew.”
For Mowat, it’s been important to be an open and active member of the LGBTQ community, especially for her athletes, because she didn’t have any role models who were gay growing up. Over the years, Mowat said she has had meaningful conversations about her sexuality with athletes who have told her seeing her family has helped them discover more about themselves.
One of those athletes is graduate student golfer and co-captain Liz Kim.
“Coach Mowat is definitely a pioneer in just how comfortable she is,” Kim said. “She’s not someone that just stands out in a crowd and proclaims who she is, but by just being her normal self and living out her truth with her family, she shows who she is.”
Kim had no plans of playing Division I golf — she found Mowat and the Ball State Women’s Golf program through a tournament where she was playing with someone who already committed to Ball State. After they played, Mowat invited Kim on a tour of Ball State the next day.
Kim said after she talked to Mowat, her dad read Mowat’s bio on the Ball State website that she was married to a woman and had children, which was something that stood out to Kim.
“At that point, I didn’t know anything about myself,” she said. “I was still just an 18-year-old kid. I didn’t really explore that part of my identity.”
Kim wasn’t sure how her family or friends would react, but in the back of her mind, she said she knew, no matter what, she had Mowat by her side.
Since coming to Ball State in 2017, Kim has fully come out to her friends and family, and she said she thought her coming out process was “pretty natural.”
“My team, they’re like my biggest allies,” she said. “They’re just so supportive, and it’s never been anything weird or different.”
Kim also believes the future of the LGBTQ community in sports is changing and people will start to see there’s a broad spectrum in representation. Like Kim, Mandy Harrison, Ball State associate strength and conditioning coach and Mowat’s wife, thinks LGBTQ portrayal in sports has evolved.
“I think that with social media … I think you just see there’s so many other families and people coming out and people starting families through professional sports,” Harrison said.
Harrison said she didn’t fully feel like herself until she dated Mowat because up until that point she had dated men. She said she has friends who are gay, so it was easier to come out to them. However, Harrison said her mom did not receive the information as well as her dad because she has siblings who are about 10 years younger than her.
“A lot of it was just trying to navigate all that, like, are the younger kids going to make sense of it? And how’s that going to work … Just all the fears a parent has,” Harrison said.
Harrison and Mowat have two kids together — Myla, 10, and Katy, 7. Harrison said she and Mowat have been “pretty fortunate” with how their colleagues at Ball State have responded.
“[Myla’s] left-handed and [Mowat’s] left-handed,” she said. “I carried both our children. So people will be like, ‘Oh, she’s left-handed like [Mowat],’ because then they think about it and they’re like, ‘Wait a minute.’ It’s just one of those things I think that kind of reinforces the fact that people just see us as a family.”
Harrison also thinks her relationship with Mowat has helped some athletes in the department and said she thinks she has become closer with some because they feel safe and comfortable talking to her. Sometimes, though, she does think there’s athletes who don’t engage with either of them because they’re “afraid of outing themselves.”
“I hope that’s not the case,” Harrison said. “I don’t care what your sexuality is — I’m going to be here for you.”
Contact Maya Wilkins with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @mayawilkinss.