Creating a Safe Environment for LGBTQ+ Youth in Sports

In June, Cyd Ziegler authored a candid piece on Outsports, a sports website at the intersection of sports and LGBTQ+ issues, about former NFL Lineman, Ryan O’Callaghan’s experience living as a closeted gay athlete. A tremendously popular article, it became one of the five most read articles on the website since it was founded in 1999. It was revealed in the article that Ryan O’Callaghan spent his time in football preparing for suicide, feeling as though he could never live as a gay man. We can learn a lot from his story, as well as other LGBTQ+ athletes that have come out about how to create a safe and inclusive environment in sports.

Your Words Matter

When friends, family, schoolmates, teammates or coaches make comments or jokes about gay people, many LGBTQ+ youth take it to heart – it’s a vulnerable time for them as they come to terms with their sexuality.

In the article, Ryan disclosed that “if you’re a gay kid and you hear someone you love say ‘fag,’ it makes you think that in their eyes you’re just a fag too.”

Quite often the person making a comment, joke or slur is accepting of the LGBTQ+ community and doesn’t understand how damaging those words can be. Consequently, if you hear inappropriate comments being uttered, politely remind the person that those words are unacceptable. Sometimes a gentle reminder can go a long way.

For coaches of youth sports, it’s advisable to have a discussion with your team early in the season about treating each other with respect, what the team guidelines are, and consequences for not following them (i.e. game day suspension).

Encourage Youth to Report Incidents of Harassment and Bullying

Parent and coaches need to encourage youth to speak to a trusted adult if they’re experiencing any form of harassment or bullying.

Hockey Calgary has some great resources to help parents, coaches and young players deal with harassment or bullying, and educate them on the how to report incidents that have occurred.

Highlight LGBTQ+ Role Models

Organizations such as You Can Play exist to promote inclusivity and respect in sports. Many well-known athletes, such as Sydney Crosby are involved with the non-profit and share their message of support for LGBTQ+ athletes via digital video.

Showcasing athletes or other well-known LGBTQ+ community members and supporters to gay youth can aid in making them feel accepted if they’ve come out or when they do come out.

We’re always here to help provide advice and guidance to parents, coaches and players about creating a safe environment for young athletes. Contact us today for additional resources.

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