Young LGBTQI people face more discrimination in sport

More than half of young LGBTQI people have witnessed discrimination while playing sport or exercising, a study indicates.

Over 1000 young LGBTQI people were surveyed by researchers at Swinburne University who looked into the experiences of participants in social sport and exercise. 

It was the largest study of LGBTQI people in Australia for a decade, and revealed participation rates for young people in the 16-25 age bracket were 30 per cent lower compared with non-LGBTQI people. 

Some 40 per cent of the 16-25 LGBTQI age group reported personal experiences of discrimination, primarily through verbal vilification.

Across the whole study sample, 53 per cent of LGBTQI young people witnessed discrimination in sport and movement settings.

“The young people we spoke to for this study highlighted their desire to be able to play sport and "just exist" or be themselves, without having their identities questioned, debated and interrogated,” research fellow Dr Ryan Storr said. 

“This research clearly indicates that discrimination stops LGBTIQA+ young people from playing sport, and when they do play, they often have to endure ongoing discrimination.”

Young people living in rural areas were more likely (44 per cent) to have been discriminated against compared with those in metropolitan areas (35 per cent). 

Data has also indicated a drop-off in sport participation since the COVID-19 pandemic with 47 per cent of LGBTQI youth registered to sports clubs from 2019-2022 compared with just 37 per cent playing social sport now.

"In comparison to comparable data from AusPlay, this indicated that this population group engage with and play less sport than the wider population," the study said. 

Young LGBTQI people are engaging more with gyms and leisure facilities than sport, researchers found.

They said targeted efforts and programs are urgently needed to reduce harm towards this group that is removing them from sport and movement settings.

Young LGBTQI people face concerns in disclosing their identities to teammates and coaches, Dr Storr said, and managing their mental health amid discrimination. 

“Sustained and targeted efforts are needed to make sporting environments safe and inclusive for all players, with anti-homophobia campaigns and initiatives urgently needed," he said.

"The major sporting codes must commit to taking immediate action in tackling LGBTIQA+ discrimination, especially across men’s team sport environments."

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