LGBT sports involvement

Samantha Wigglesworth

play safe LGBT sport

A recent investigation into the participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) students in sport at university was conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS). It found that only one third of LGBT students were prepared to take part in team sports, as a result of a variety of cultural and structural issues. Some students cited an unwelcoming atmosphere, which resulted in their decision not to participate in sport, while fourteen percent experienced homophobia at their sporting institution which put them off participation.

One of the key criticisms that were uncovered as a result of the report was that only one third of LGBT students agreed that there were obvious equality policies with regards to sport at their institution. A ‘visible and enforced equality policy’ was cited as key in ensuring the inclusion and participation of LGBT students at their sporting institution.

These issues are not new and last year GUSA and the SRC were particularly pro-active in dealing with potential discrimination against LGBT students in sports. Last year the FairPlay Campaign was set up as a joint initiative between the Students Representative Council and Glasgow University Sports Association to work against these barriers and forms of discrimination in sport against LGBT students at Glasgow University. The campaign was established to encourage a culture of respect and openness that the recent NUS report highlights as a crucial step in ensuring that LGBT students feel welcomed at their university’s sporting institution. The FairPlay Campaign ensured that the GUSA constitution was amended to guarantee that no members would be discriminated against on the grounds of race, ethnic origin, religion, beliefs, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or physical or mental ability and pronounced its commitment to promoting a gay-friendly and trans-friendly environment in all areas of sport and recreation.  The campaign also aims to ensure that if there is any discrimination reported, it will be properly addressed.

Drew McClusker, the former Sexual Orientation Equality Officer stated that he was inspired to create FairPlay as a result of his contrasting experiences in sport at High School and then as part of Glasgow University Swimming and Water Polo. Many of the issues surrounding an LGBT person getting into sport is down to what he referred to as “‘locker-room syndrome”.

Commenting, he said: “Straight person can be uncomfortable with someone being gay and in the locker-room because they think that their own exposure could be titillating or part of some agenda of that LGBT person. The flip-side of that is that the LGBT person may also be uncomfortable, fearing that the straight person could be worrying about the LGBT person’s motive to be there, and fearing potential threats or assaults. The fear of harassment on both parts is uncomfortable, but until any action takes place, the only basis for such an atmosphere is cynicism and suspicion of each thinking the worst of the other.”

The FairPlay campaign was created to encourage LGBT students to get involved in sport and recreation and promote the already welcoming and friendly atmosphere of GUSA. GUSA President, Chris Miller, supports Drew McClusker’s views, commenting that he did not feel that GUSA had an “unwelcoming” atmosphere at all towards the LGBT community.

He said: “The many social and lifestyle benefits that regular exercise, playing sport and taking part in recreational activities provide are endless. Being a part of Glasgow University Sports Association, and Sport & Recreation, we believe these should be available to all and all barriers to access such opportunities are reduced or removed. Furthermore, each unique individual helps shape such a positive experience within the University sporting community and make it such a special thing to be part of.

“As this NUS report shows, there is clearly a great need and potential for the FairPlay Campaign and continued work across the sector to make everyone feel involved and welcome to participate in sport. The partnership which provides Sport & Recreation opportunities at the University of Glasgow is one of the most highly regarded and copied structures in the UK, and we are very proud of the service we provide to the University and the wider community. Should anyone like to discuss how sport and recreational activities can be made more accessible on campus please get in touch and share your views and experiences, we strive to continually develop opportunities and are always open to new suggestions and initiatives.”

It is clear that the issues highlighted by the NUS report are not applicable to GUSA due to the FairPlay Campaign and the University’s strong policies towards equality. If any LGBT student has experienced discrimination as a result of their sexual orientation, gender, etc they should report any such incident to GUSA management.