European Youth Portal

Information and opportunities for young people across Europe.

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Safe or unsafe on the football field or in the locker room?

Football, hockey, athletics, and so on - team sports are supposed to foster a sense of belonging, right? But if you don't fit into the norm, you may not feel that way. LGBTQ youth often don't.

 

When the sports world is at its best, it doesn't just get us in better shape, we can also gain new friends and learn to fight for a goal. When it's at its worst, it's a traditional and often tough world that systematically categorizes us according to gender, which excludes some young people who don't feel welcome in the locker room or on the field. 

 

1 in 3 LGBTQ youngsters avoid sports

The Swedish National Board for Youth Affairs surveyed over 2000 Swedish young people between 16 and 25, and 1 in 3 LGBTQ people who responded said that they had elected not to participate in sports at least once because they were worried about the reactions to their sexual orientation. 1 in 10 felt worried or scared on these occasions. Among heterosexual youth of the same age, only 1% had felt unsafe or scared. 

 

These results are confirmed by interviews with LGBTQ youth done by The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights and their youth section. And the feelings of fear or worry lead to many young people choosing not to do sports. The problems start in the locker room, which are structured according to the norm that men and women are attracted to one another.

 

Role models are important - and we need more of them

The fact that the world of sports can be both homophobic and full of extremely normative views on gender isn't news: often it's a world that thrives on stereotypical attitudes surrounding masculinity, where team spirit is sometimes expressed through macho posturing. Not always, but it's not uncommon. But things are changing: several lesbian athletes have been coming out and though the men are very few, it does keep happening.  

 

Because the more professional athletes who are out, the more clear it will become that sexual orientation has nothing to do with what you do on the field or on the ice rink. As Anton Hysén said to the Swedish football magazine Offside in 2013: "It's kind of nice now, I don't really have to keep talking about being gay all the time. Because I'd rather talk about football, to be honest."