We are not immune to discrimination
BY ERIN WILLIAMS, IMAGE BY RAINBOW LACES/STONEWALL
Over the past decade, we’ve seen fantastic progress when it comes to LGBTQIA visibility in women’s sports. At a national and international level, we’ve seen more and more people celebrating their sporting successes as proud queer women, for example, with seven of the winning Lionesses team being openly gay or bi. And from elites to grassroots, we’ve seen women’s sports embrace campaigns like Rainbow Laces to celebrate LGBTQIA inclusion and showcase allyship. Encouragingly, we’re seeing attitudes towards homophobic remarks in sports changing. According to a survey by ICM Unlimited for Stonewall, the percentage of people who believe homophobic remarks are acceptable in sports dropped from 25% in 2017 to just 14% in 2022.
We might get the impression, that LGBTQIA women and non-binary people in sports don’t face any significant barriers and that they “have it easy” being who they are. But it’s simply not true. As we mark this year’s Lesbian Visibility Week, I wanted to highlight some underlying problems, that queer women in sports are still facing today.
Some coaches don’t get it
Even if they’re queer themselves, they might not appreciate how hard it can be to come out and face identity-related challenges. I’ve had a coach tell me I needed to “develop better resilience” and to “stop being so emotional” after I came out. She was queer herself but simply didn’t understand different coming-out experiences. I faced significant off-pitch challenges with my family and I was trying to handle my new reality, but “toughening-up” was not really the solution. I had a very low mood and I needed my coach to understand that not all coming out experiences are alike, and not to dismiss my experiences as simply a weakness. We need coaches who know how to provide individualised support and empathy. And later on in life, I have also experienced amazing supportive teams, where I was able to really flourish as a person and as a player
Don’t be a butch!
Women’s sports also have a big problem with body image and sexualisation. Some sports require players to wear skirts or dresses, which can be a real barrier for some athletes. And don’t even get me started on how some clubs prioritise “femme” athletes for their marketing or modelling – that’s just not fair. But we know, that the sports culture is still filled with these toxic sexualised stereotypes. Gender expression is different from gender identity and orientation, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with presenting as femme in sports. But everyone should be able to see themselves represented and not denied the opportunity, just because of a fear that “butchness” will put people off watching the game.
We must also remember, that people still face additional barriers when it comes to playing sports because of discrimination and stigma based on different parts of who they are. Amazin LêThị, who is a sports champion for Stonewall, a weightlifter and a published fitness author has been campaigning for BAME LGBTQIA inclusion for years.
Amazin said: “Sport has always been part of my life but I never saw myself in sports, let alone as an LGBTQ athlete, which made me feel very alone and isolated. I never felt I could ever be out because I was always bullied as that one Asian person in sport. Sport should be welcoming to everyone and no one should feel they should hide their sexuality or gender identity.”
If we want to make sport everyone’s game we need to step up and continue calling on professional sports bodies to champion and include all lesbian, bi, trans and queer women. This needs active support, training and commitment from elite to grassroots level. Don’t make the lazy assumption that LGBTQIA women and non-binary people in sports have it easy, and work with us to inspire the next generations of us to find joy in sport. Some teams are already on a good track, so continue to speak up for the queer community, work with them to make changes and allow them to thrive.
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