University of Washington alumnus David Kopay, widely regarded as the first American professional team athlete to come out of the closet, has pledged $1 million (£500,000) to the university’s Q Centre, whose mission is to create an inclusive and celebratory environment for people of all sexual orientations.

“The greatest gift we can give one another is the vision and beauty of life,” Kopay said in a statement.

“I continually hear from people all over the world that my act of coming out especially when I did in 1975 has empowered them in their search for self and to see their vision.

“Hopefully my million dollar pledge will influence others to support the University and the Q Centre continue to help others to do just that.”

“David Kopay’s generous gift to the Q Centre is both an act of forgiveness and a clear directive to the UW regarding the health and well-being of its glbttsqqi [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, queer, questioning and intersex] students, faculty, and staff,” Jennifer Self, director of the Q Centre, said in a statement.

“When David was a student-athlete at the UW in the early 60′s, as a gay man, he had nowhere to go for support, affirmation, resources or safety. That is no longer the case, and thanks in part to him the Q Centre will be here in perpetuity.”

Kopay attended the UW from 1961 to 1964; he completed his degree in history in 1966.

He became an All-American running back in his senior year, leading the team to the 1964 Rose Bowl as co-captain. He played professional football with the San Francisco 49ers from 1964 to 1967, the Detroit Lions in 1968, the Washington Redskins in 1969-70, the New Orleans Saints in 1971 and the Green Bay Packers in 1972.

In 1975, he gave an interview with the Washington Star in which he acknowledged that he was gay.

Kopay was considered a top contender for coaching positions, but he believes he was snubbed because of his sexual orientation.

He has championed rights for gays in front of Congress in 1977, the American Bar Association in 1979 and the American Association of Pediatrics in 1980.

His biography, The David Kopay Story, contains his reflections on being the first openly gay formerly professional American team athlete.

Kopay became interested in the Q Centre when he read about a gay UW student who had been living in a homeless shelter while attending school.

He wanted to ensure that future students, whose families similarly might have turned their back on them, had the appropriate resources for continuing their education.

He plans to move back to Seattle to assist the UW and the Seattle community in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender initiatives.

The UW’s Q Centre was established in 2004. It provides professional support, advocacy and mentoring for students, faculty and staff with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender concerns.

Kopay’s gift will be used to create an endowment that will support the activities of the Q Centre.

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