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Being out at school is stopping LGBT+ teens from taking part in sport

Being out at school is stopping LGBT+ teens from taking part in sport

  • New research shows that the more open an LGBT+ teen is about their sexuality, the less likely they are to participate in sport.
Teens playing basketball.

The more open LGBT+ teenagers are about their sexuality or gender identity, the less likely they are to participate in sport.

Meanwhile transgender and non-binary teenagers aged 13 to 18 are even less likely to participate in sport than their cisgender lesbian, gay and bi peers.

That’s according to a new study published today by US LGBT+ youth suicide prevention organization, The Trevor Project.

Amy Green PhD is director of research for The Trevor Project. She said:

‘No LGBTQ young person should have to choose between being “out” and being an athlete.

‘This data adds to a growing body of research on LGBTQ youth sports participation that suggests a need to transform sports environments into LGBTQ-affirming spaces.’

Out teens are less likely to be athletes

People swimming
Trans and non-binary teens find accessing sport particularly hard. Photo posed by models. Tris Reid-Smith

Existing research has already shown that LGBT+ youths are less likely to take part in sport than other teenagers.

We also know that young LGBT+ athletes feel less safe. Indeed, past research shows high levels of homophobic and transphobic abuse and harassment on playing fields and locker rooms. Meanwhile teams and coaches tend not to tackle this abuse.

But the new study in the US clearly shows that the more out a teenager is, the less likely they are to take part in sport.

For lesbian, gay, bisexual and other non-straight sexualities:

  • 32% of teens who aren’t out to anyone take part in sport.
  • 28% who are out to only a few people take part.
  • 23% who are out to ‘some people’ take part.
  • 22% who are open with ‘a lot of people I know’ take part.
  • 20% of teens who are out to everyone takes part.

Likewise, for trans and non-binary 13 to 18-year-olds:

  • 20% who aren’t out to anyone take part.
  • 19% who are open with a few people join in.
  • 16% who are out to ‘some people’ take part.
  • 15% for those who are out to ‘a lot of people’.
  • 13% of teens who are out to everyone participate in sport.

‘Trade-off between sport and being out’

The researchers said: ‘Many LGBTQ youth may be forced to make a trade-off between participating in sports and being their authentic selves.

‘For some youth, this may involve participating in sports while hiding their LGBTQ identity, while others who are more “out” may choose to forego sports participation altogether.’

Moreover, the researchers said this was particularly difficult for trans and non-binary teens. They face gender-segregated teams and changing facilities. Meanwhile many sports actively discriminate against trans participants, forbidding some from taking part.

The Trevor Project says this is particularly worrying because sport promotes ‘resilience and mental health’. Meanwhile, LGBT+ teens are already likely to have poorer mental health than their straight, cis peers.