By Jeremy Repanich
While professional sports leagues and athletes encourage LGBTQ participation through initiatives like the You Can Play Project and Athlete Ally, a study published by The University of British Columbia researchers found that lesbian, gay and bisexual teens are playing sports less than they did 15 years ago.
“In every year we measured, LGB youth were about half as likely, or even less (likely), to participate in coached sports than straight youth were,” said Elizabeth Saewyc, the study’s co-author and a professor at UBC. “And unfortunately, that gap has persisted and even widened over time.”
The researchers surveyed nearly 100,000 kids from grade 7–12 in British Columbia, showing that although all youth sports participation was falling, it is more pronounced among gay teens. They reported that 5 in 10 gay students played sports in 1998, but that number fell to just 3 in 10 in 2013. Teens surveyed said that they felt formalized sports were still unwelcoming to LGBTQ athletes, with baseball, football, basketball, and soccer having three times more homophobic attitudes than swimming, track, or racket sports.
The authors wrote that while leagues’ efforts to be more inclusive and to penalize slurs has been helpful to destigmatize gay athletes, the lack of professional sports role models has hurt the cause. But most importantly, more grassroots efforts need to be made to increase participation; efforts that, they write, “address the specific needs of gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens and may need to provide supportive training for parents, coaches, and educators to navigate issues of homophobia and inclusion in sports.”