OUT on LGBTQ athletes

Queer sports discussion hopes to create a positive space in sports

OUT@UTM held a queer sports seminar on Tuesday, January 21, during Pride Week to discuss homosexual identity in relation to sports. Homosexuality is a modern-day civil rights issue, and with the recent media coverage of the anti-gay laws and their impact on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, this discussion was an important one to have.

The sports world seems to exist in a hyper-masculine environment, where athletes are expected to act a certain way on and off the field. More and more professional athletes are trying to challenge this stereotype and encourage a distinction between sexual orientation and perceived athletic ability.

A number of recent outings of LGBTQ athletes, both active and retired, have helped bring this issue to light. Most notably, Jason Collins, a centre for the Boston Celtics, became the first active male player in a major league sport in North America to come out to the public about his sexual orientation in the spring of 2013. After Collins’ reveal, the sports world has taken to preaching acceptance, with professional athletes in various sports speaking out on the topic with the hopes of effecting change.

The NHL has partnered with You Can Play, a campaign hoping to eliminate homophobia in sport founded by former Leafs general manager Brian Burke. In addition, Re-Orientation, a recent series created by TSN, showcases this new perspective on homophobia in sport, speaking to athletes and commissioners of sports leagues on the subject and looking at inequality at the Sochi games.

“Being gay, for athletes, used to almost be a death sentence, in a way,” says Roya Ghahremani, a second-year psychology major and executive of OUT@UTM. “As soon as they came out, their career took a turn for the worse. But today, LGBTQ athletes are role models to the thousands of people out there going through the same thing. And now that we have started to accept these diverse folk in the athletic world, we see them as strong and brave leaders.”

Ghahremani felt it was important for the UTM community to engage in this discussion to end homophobia in U of T sports and create a positive space.

“Many had felt at one point or another marginalized because of a lot of the language use—words such as ‘faggot’ or ‘pussy’, or the way their coaches addressed them,” Ghahremani says. She cites language as an important factor in eradicating a negative space.

The event was important for Ghahremani to include in Pride Week festivities because she believes sports to often be a breeding ground for gender segregation and harsh assumptions that divide athletes into groups of males and females, forcing some LGBTQ athletes to label themselves as something they are not.

The efforts to educate athletes and coaches to be aware and accepting seem to be working at U of T, according to Nathaniel Virgo, a third-year kinesiology major and player on the Varsity Blues volleyball team. “You accept a teammate for their personality and athletic ability. If I’m not mistaken, at our university there a quite a few athletes and teammates who have disclosed their sexual identity as gay or lesbian,” Virgo says. He believes there is acceptance in U of T sports culture, and hopes this awareness will aid in changing public perception of what it means to be an athlete.

“If you can play, you can play,” he says. “Your sexual orientation doesn’t change that.”

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