LGBT+ People and Sport

According to the Equality Network, in 2016:

  • 79% of people believe that homophobia is an issue within sports
  • 66% believe that transphoia is an issue within sports
  • 73% believe that homophobia and/or transphobia is a barrier to them taking part in sports
  • 57% would be more likely to participate in sports if it was more LGBT+ friendly

These statistics from the Equality Network become even more significant when we consider some of the related aspects of LGBT+ people’s lives. Research from the charity Stonewall, for instance, show that LGBT+ respondents are more likely to experience poor mental health. With the benefits to wellbeing offered by sport and physical activity, inclusion in these areas could be a great way of improving lives, but nevertheless, there are some barriers to sport that are specific to LGBT+ experiences.

Barriers to Participation

Some of the most frequent barriers that are cited by LGBT+ people when it comes to sport are:

  • Fear of homophobia, biphobia, and/or transphobia from other players
  • Changing room ‘banter’
  • Feeling unable to participate in certain conversations
  • Overcoming gender stereotypes

Several of these cases relate to stereotyping, meaning that individuals are being judged as having a particular character because of their identity rather than interactions with them. For some people, even well-intentioned jokes may be quite difficult if they reinforce stereotypes about themselves or the wider LGBT+ community.

Similarly, in some sports, participation rates may differ based on gender; one barrier to overcoming this is that individuals may not want to be the ‘odd-one-out’ or have assumptions made about their gender/sexual identity on the basis of their sporting interests.

Barriers that Transgender and Non-Binary People Face

For transgender and non-binary people more specifically, there are other potential barriers to participation that relate to gender identity, including:

  • Sport kit causing gender dysphoria
  • Teams being strictly “men’s” or “women’s”
  • Binders
  • Being misgendered by teammates

Dysphoria is a stress a person feels due to a mismatch between their gender identity and their sex assigned at birth. One possible trigger is sports kit that emphasises a part of their body that does not reflect their gender identity.

One way in which teams can support trans/non-binary inclusion is by being flexible with the clothing required for that sport: for some trans/non-binary players, it may help to wear different-fitting clothing. If you lead a sports group, you can make everyone aware of your clothing expectations, but if this leads to some individuals dressing differently, you should avoid pointing it out – nobody wants to feel like they stand out.

Some trans men wear a binder as part of how they express their male identity; this is a tight crop top that flattens one’s chest. Binders can be very painful and should not normally be worn for extended periods each day, but some may feel unable not to wear it during sport if seeing their chest causes dysphoria. In cases such as this, a binder may affect inhalation due to the pressure on the lungs. If you notice a player wearing a binder, please do not call attention to it, but it may be helpful to ask if they’d like a break with you if you see them getting tired.