Study calls for better inclusion of same-sex attracted and gender diverse youth in sports

Western Sydney University researchers have found same-sex attracted and gender diverse (SSAGD) young people want to participate in sport, but past and current negative experiences, including those of violence and discrimination, can hold them back.

The pilot study, which explored the experiences and attitudes towards sport, exercise and physical activity of 13 SSAGD young people aged 17-21 in NSW, is the first in-depth look at perceptions of sport and physical activity amongst SSAGD youth and how sport can help facilitate their participation.

Lead researcher Dr. Ryan Storr, from the University’s School of Health Sciences and Sexualities and Gender Research team, said the study largely found SSAGD youths reported negative experiences relating to sport, but that they still had a strong desire to be included and ideas on how codes can be more inclusive.

“The study highlights the extent of exclusion and discrimination SSAGD youths face from a young age. Many recall bullying and difficulties in PE classes, and feel unable to join a local sporting club or simply go to a gym as young adults,” said Dr. Storr.

“We know SSAGD young people are at significantly greater risk of poor mental health compared to their peers, and that their participation in sport could be of huge benefit. We need to provide a safe and welcoming environment to ensure all youths can enjoy sport.”

“Notably, the study found discrimination faced by SSAGD young people was particularly high when living in rural or regional areas—often locations where sport and physical activity is central to community life.”

The study highlights that the existing sporting culture in NSW is a strong deterrent to participation, noting participants often felt unsafe in public sporting venues, were impacted by negative media attention and debates around sexuality and gender diverse people, and felt the culture of physical exercise was generally hostile towards them.

Also identified were a number of gender binary issues. These issues related to gendered sporting facilities and gendered activities, the gendered nature of sport activities in PE classes, and a lack of effort by sport clubs to include gender diverse people due to rigid structures around binary gender.

The report makes a number of recommendations to sport organizations to make access more equitable for SSAGD youths. Key recommendations include:

  • Leadership in sport clubs and organizations can go a long way in reducing homophobia and transphobia in sport, especially if clear policy and guidelines are established;
  • Draft clear anti-homophobia/ transphobia/ biphobia discrimination policies that involve consultation with SSAGD-identifying athletes and community members;
  • Ensure that policies are enforced and are not tokenistic, which includes actively addressing incidences of discrimination when they arise and punishing perpetrators in accordance with respective policies;
  • Provide SSAGD sensitivity and ally training for management staff and players in club sport and leisure organizations. Training must highlight the discriminatory experiences of young SSAGD people, how such incidents can be prevented and mitigated, and information on how to be a good ally;
  • Ensure appropriate facilities are made available for SSAGD-identifying athletes and team staff who may wish to use them, including unisex bathroom and changing room options; and
  • Provide athletes with diverse uniform options, especially when there is only one style of the uniform available. For example, in netball, providing players with the option to wear shorts, not just skirts.

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