LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports
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How do we make our teams and clubs more inclusive and welcoming?

It is the beginning of Pride Month and the beginning of the Pride Festival season. This year, Pride Festivals will look a little different than they have in the past. Due to COVID-19 most, if not all, Pride Festivals are being held virtually. Pride is a time for education, advocating and celebrating for LGBTQ peoples. While we have come a long way for LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports, we have a long way to go; in Canada, 70% of people believe that sport teams are unsafe for LGB youth. Gay and bisexual teens in grades 7-12 are less likely to participate in sports than heterosexual peers.

Sport is a powerful tool for social development. Social development is about improving the well-being of every individual in society so they can reach their full potential. Success of a community is linked to the well-being of each and every citizen. Sport is not just physical activity, it promotes health (physical and mental) and education, fosters cognitive development, teaches social behaviour and helps social cohesion. Sport can be used to increase the social capital and social integration of LGBTQ+ peoples into the wider community, as well as empowering them and giving them skills that will help them give back to the community.

LGBTQ+ peoples still face barriers when trying to enter and participate in sports. They face discrimination and harrassment at all levels of sport, from the community and recreational levels to the professional and elite levels. For sport to be used as a tool for development and inclusion, we must work to change sport culture to be more welcoming to gender and sexual minorities.

Why does sport and development need to focus on LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports? LGBTQ+ peoples:

  • Are less likely to participate in sports than hetersexual and cisgender peers
  • Drop out of sports more frequently than heterosexual and cisgender peers or feel that medical interventions are necessary to continue participation
  • Experience social isolation if they remain in toxic sport environments
  • Wished they had more role models when they were young
How is homophobia and transphobia experienced in sports? 

From my own experiences when growing up, I felt very uncomfortable in the changing room before and after gym class at school, so I always changed as fast as I could. Gym class was dominated by the masculinity of the other boys in my class. I never felt that I belonged in the gym because I never fit in with the other boys. I never felt that I could be an athlete or be good at sports. I stopped taking gym class as soon as I could.

Eventually I started swimming and found my place in sport, but that too did not last as I quit after my second year of university after swimming for years. This was a time of great change for me. As I was discovering who I was outside of the pool, I felt it was incompatible with who I was in the pool. I didn’t think I could be gay and an athlete at the same time.

Homophobia and transphobia are experienced differently for men and women.

Some of the ways that women experience homophobia are:

  • Women who participate in traditionally feminine sports and are suspected of being lesbian are often singled out of other players
  • Women will avoid traditionally masculine sports such as hockey because those who play are accused of being a lesbian. This label prevents many women from participating in these sports because they do not want that label
  • When a female athlete competes with traditionally masculine characteristics (strength, for example), we assume they are lesbians

Some of the ways that men experience homophobia are:

  • Male locker rooms are often an extremely homophoic space. Male athletes have to consider their actions carefully to not appear “too gay” and offend teammates
  • The male locker room culture and “locker room talk” is both sexist and homophobic
  • Being beaten by a gay athlete is used sometimes to insult someone. Because you were beaten by someone who is not seen to be as masculine as you

Some of the ways that transphobia is experienced in sports are:

  • The motives of trans women athletes who wish to participate in sport in the gender in which they identify are often questioned
  • Lingering misbelief that they are not really “women”
  • Assumption that trans women will have an unfair competitive advantage

Coaches also experience homophobia. There are not many out coaches. Many coaches fear that they will be labelled as a sexual predator, especially when coaching at the youth level. Coaches fear backlash from other coaches, athletes and parents.

How do we make our teams and clubs more inclusive and welcoming?

Here are some tips for making your team or club more inclusive for LGBTQ+ peoples:

  • Learn the preferred names and pronouns of the athlete. All individuals have the right to go by the name and pronouns they choose 
  • Use gender neutral language such as “hello everyone” instead of “hello boys and girls” or “hey guys”
  • Avoid “boys' vs girls'” activities (e.g. relays during practice or team building exercises). Get athletes to divide up based on other criteria (example: divide into two groups, one group has birthdays between January-June and the second July-December). This is a huge one because sports are so segregated into boys and girls, and often they want to do “battle of the sexes”
  • Increase the visibility of LGBTQ athletes and coaches by inviting them to speak to your team
  • Have policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Every locker room should have private enclosed changing areas, showers, and toilets available for everyone
  • If you have a team uniform or dress code, ensure that it respects an individual’s gender identity and gender expression
  • Trans athletes should be allowed to compete on the team that matches their gender identity 
  • When travelling, trans athletes generally should be assigned to share hotel rooms based on their gender identity, with a recognition that any athlete who needs extra privacy should be accommodated wherever possible

Making sports inclusive for everyone increases the accessibility of sports. Sports are for everyone.

To learn more about how to make your sport teams and clubs more inclusive for LGBTQ+ peoples please check out the following resources:



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