When we wear our rainbow laces, we commit to having honest conversations about the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in sport and fitness – but what are the key talking points we need to address?
Sport and fitness is an important part of so many of our lives – it has the power to bring people together, and to improve our mental and physical health. But too many LGBTQ+ people still feel confronted with a choice between loving their sport and being their true selves.
Over the past five years, more than a million of you have laced up to show support for LGBTQ+ people in sport and fitness. Now it’s time to go one step further and start a conversation about why you support the campaign, and the commitment we can make, individually and together, to ensure LGBTQ+ feel welcome in sport.
Speak up to friends, family, colleagues, teams and clubs – because every conversation matters, and every conversation takes us one step closer to achieving our goal.
Below are just some of the conversations we need to have now, if we want to make sport everyone’s game.
Q: How widespread is discrimination?
Many LGBTQ+ people still feel unsafe and unwelcome in sport and fitness. For example:
- Across Europe, 82% of LGBTQ+ people who take part in sport have experienced or witnessed homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in the past 12 months (Out in Sport, 2019).
- More than 43% of LGBTQ+ people think public sporting events aren’t a welcoming space for LGBTQ+ people. (YouGov for Stonewall, 2017).
- 33% of LGBTQ+ people who participate in or follow sport aren’t out to anyone in their sporting life (Out in Sport, 2019). Their research indicates that fear of rejection and bullying are two key factors keeping athletes ‘in the closet’.
So while there’s been a significant uptick in visibility in recent years, LGBTQ+ people still face prejudice across the sporting world, and that means many simply stop participating. That’s why it’s so important for each of us to talk with the people around us about the real experiences of LGBTQ+ people in sport, and do our best to create inclusive environments.
Q: Are attitudes changing towards LGBTQ+ people in sport?
The Rainbow Laces campaign has united the majority of sport fans and participants who see that inclusion matters. For example:
- Two thirds of sport fans who saw the campaign believe they have a responsibility to stick up for LGBTQ+ fans of the teams and sports they follow (ICM for Stonewall, 2020).
- 46% of people feel confident challenging anti-LGBT language online and at live sporting events.
And in recent years, we’ve celebrated an ever-growing number of out and proud LGBTQ+ sportspeople gracing our screens and magazine covers. With increasing awareness has come increased acceptance, but there’s still a way to go to shift public attitudes – 20% of sport fans think anti-LGBTQ+ language is harmless if it’s just meant as banter (ICM for Stonewall, 2020), and there’s more work to do to ensure trans people can participate in the sports they love.
Q: How can we support LGBTQ+ people to not give up on their sporting dreams?
Every team member plays a vital role in making people feel part of the team. Team talks, end of season speeches, WhatsApp groups, and dressing room chatter – the way we interact in all these contexts impacts our peers. For a lot of people, sport and sporting environments are ‘safe spaces’, somewhere they feel comfortable and at ease. But for others, the same place might make them feel like they have to hide part of their lives because of how others might react.
Q: Do people perform better when they can be themselves?
Research has shown that ‘coming out’ at work is related to higher job satisfaction, and there are significant ‘costs’ associated with hiding our true selves – the same can be applied in the context of sporting clubs and events. If we’re not worrying about hiding aspects of ourselves from those around us – by monitoring how we talk, walk, or share details about our lives – we can truly focus on the sports we love.
‘Coming out’ is also linked to improved mental health. Depression impacts our communities at a disproportionately high rate, with our 2018 research showing that 52% of LGBTQ+ people had experienced depression in the past year. Much of this is linked to the discrimination we face in a range of contexts. If LGBTQ+ people can be themselves in a sporting environment, it’s more likely that they’ll perform to their best potential.
Q: What part can I play?
Simple – lace up and speak up! On Wednesday 8 December 2021, it’s Rainbow Laces Day. We take this time to celebrate the impact that sport has on LGBTQ+ people and the impact that LGBTQ+ people have on sport, and to consider how we can all play our part in making sport everyone's game.
Why not take this opportunity to start a conversation about why those around you should also support the cause? You can order laces for your communities or encourage them to order laces, and provoke positive, constructive conversations across your communities about LGBTQ+ inclusion. Remember – every conversation takes us one step closer to creating a better sporting world for LGBTQ+ people.
If you’re feeling inspired, we’ve compiled our top 10 tips for anybody wanting to step up as an ally to LGBTQ+ people in sport.