Read our top tips on making sure all LGBTQ+ people feel welcomed in sport.
- Being an inclusive sports organisation
Regardless of the set-up of your sport or activity, everyone will benefit if it’s more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning and ace (LGBTQ+) people.
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.
Follow these top tips to create a space where everyone feels they can be their authentic self. This way, they can spend all their energy and enthusiasm on their sport.
Let everyone know you’re inclusive by actively supporting LGBTQ+ causes. Wear Rainbow Laces, celebrate different identities on social media, display rainbow and trans stickers visibly at your venues and online. Make the clear, visible statement that you welcome everyone.
Sporting environments should be inclusive of all LGBTQ+ people, so make sure every opportunity is as open to all as possible. Check that your organisation has inclusion policies and that they are up to date. Ensure you have a policy on homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying. Check your policies for gendered language as it excludes people. Make sure you have Trans Inclusion guidelines and policies from your governing body and that you’re confident applying these.
3. Codes of conduct.
Draft and actively enforce codes of conduct so that everyone at the organisation knows what’s acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. Include your organisation’s core values and references to your inclusion and anti-bullying policies. Put the code of conduct on prominent display – in person or online – as a permanent reminder.
Some people may prefer to play in mixed-gender environments, so set up mixed trainings, sessions, or tournaments. If your organisation is already inclusive of all genders, make this clear by renaming your session to explicitly say ‘mixed’. Mixed activity breaks down barriers of opportunity between traditional ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ categories and can provide comfortable and inclusive opportunities for everyone.
Consider what could be done to your facilities to make them more inclusive, such as introducing gender-neutral changing rooms. If you use third-party facilities, work with the managers to ensure gender-neutral spaces are available.
Being inclusive isn’t just the right thing to do – it has real benefits for you, your teammates, and your club. Inclusivity:
- Recruits new participants and retains current ones, helping make your organisation sustainable.
- Attracts new talent – participants will know they’ll be accepted for who they are and encouraged to reach their full potential.
- Creates a welcoming environment which makes your organisation a better place to work or volunteer at. This will ensure your sport happens week in, week out.
- Being an inclusive teammate
Every team member plays a huge role in making people feel part of the team. Team talks, end of season speeches, WhatsApp groups and dressing room chatter – take these steps to ensure everyone can give their all to the club and make the best of themselves.
1. Don’t assume.
Avoid using language that makes assumptions about people’s gender identity and the gender of their partner. It’s far more inclusive to say things like ‘bring your partner to the game’ rather than ‘boyfriend or ‘girlfriend’, and celebrate a ‘player of the match’ instead of ‘man’ or ‘woman’.
If language focuses on someone’s identity in a negative way, it’s hurtful and abusive, even if it’s not directed at anyone around you at the time. This isn’t banter; it’s abuse. Slurs cause harm even if there’s no obvious ‘target’. LGBTQ+ people don’t need to hear the words to be hurt by them. They reinforce stereotypes, build barriers to understanding and stop the sporting arena being a welcoming place. If you feel safe to do so, challenge abusive language and behaviours. Remind people that this language is offensive and exclusionary.
3. Respect difference.
LGBTQ+ is an umbrella term but the experiences of the people it covers can be very different, both in sport and in the wider world. Support everyone as the individuals they are. Talk to everyone about wellbeing and valuing team spirit, and be sensitive to differences in experience.
Talk to LGBTQ+ people on your team about how they want to be supported and championed. Small actions can go a long way, and there may be things they need that are specific to your environment and/or their own personal experiences. Teammates look out for each other, so make a habit of checking in with all of yours!
Stonewall is launching bespoke Empowerment sessions for people involved in sport. These sessions will cover how to create inclusive environments, step up as an active ally, and challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Register your interest in participating in a future Sport Empowerment Programme.
Erin Walters-Williams, she/her, loacrosse player and coach, Wales Lacrosse
I’ve been very lucky to find a home in the friendship of team sport. In a world which is still very much not a safe space for queer people, lacrosse has given me a safe environment where I can express myself physically and support my friends in a common goal.
The first people I came out to were teammates. They supported me the same way we supported each other on the pitch: with loyalty and laughter. When I couldn't find family elsewhere, my lacrosse family stepped in.
I firmly believe such benefits should be available to everyone, and I love that Rainbow Laces visibly works to make sport a truly positive force for people.
- Being a respectful fan
Supporters of professional/elite teams and athletes
As fans, we all want the same thing: winning teams and athletes that perform well. All clubs and sports have an ethos and values, and showing your support for a team or sport shouldn’t go against this. We can all cheer our side on and create an exciting atmosphere without being abusive.
- Visibly show your support for LGBTQ+ people to make it clear sport should be everyone’s game. Wear Rainbow Laces or a Rainbow Laces pin badge, display online ribbons, and retweet positive messages supporting LGBTQ+ people in sport.
- Slurs cause damage even if there’s no visible ‘target’. LGBTQ+ people don’t need to hear the words to be hurt by them. They perpetuate stereotypes, build barriers to understanding and stop the sporting arena being a welcoming place.
- Let the club or governing body know that you value inclusivity and diversity. Write to your club and encourage them to think about diversity in the club and the steps they can take to promote inclusivity. Ask them about plans to get involved in Rainbow Laces, celebrate different identities, and get sponsors and supporters involved in club activities.
- If your team has an LGBTQ+ supporters’ group, reach out to them. Ask them how you can show your support as an ally or join up!
- Learn how to report abuse. There could be different ways to report it – online, in person, by phone. The key thing is to use them as soon as you can after the incident.
- Tackling homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic abuse
Although more people think homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse is wrong – and more people recognise it when it happens – too few of them report it. Such abuse can only be stamped out if the authorities know when and where it’s happening, so everyone should call it out whenever they witness or experience it.
Keep in mind that abusive language doesn’t need to be directed at LGBTQ+ people for it to be a problem. Chants which reference sexual acts, slurs, and misgendering are all forms of abuse – even if you don’t think an LGBTQ+ person will be directly affected. Abuse can also take the form of graffiti, stickers, or purposefully excluding someone from social activities.
- Learn how to report abuse. There could be different ways to report it – online, in person, by phone. The key thing is to report it as soon as you can after the incident. Also, make sure you involve the victims of anti-LGBTQ+ abuse, if there are any directly affected, in the reporting process and in any decisions made in reaction to the abuse.
- If you feel confident and the situation is safe, challenge the language yourself in a positive, non-aggressive way. Tell them that anti-LGBTQ+ language is abusive and hurtful, even if it’s not directed at a particular person at the time. Doing so sends a strong message to fellow fans, players, and the workforce that anti-LGBTQ+ abuse isn’t acceptable. If they know they’ll be challenged, they’ll be less likely to do it.
- Some major sports arenas display advice on reporting abuse on the concourses or in the toilets. They often advertise a club- or stadium-specific number you can use to report abuse discreetly. If there are stewards around, tell them about the abuse – they’ve been trained to deal with these situations.
- If you witness abuse at any other sporting event – e.g. a smaller ground, community event, or casual fitness session – tell the officials as soon as possible. Then report it to the host organisation and the national governing body.
- Take screenshots of anti-LGBTQ+ abuse you see online and report it to the social media platform concerned. Attacks on social media are especially harmful as they endure after the game, throughout the post-game social, and at home.
Know who to contact first:
- Involved in football: download the Kick It Out app.
- Playing in a BUCS / university fixture: speak to your sports coordinator.
- Participating in a mass activity event: speak to a steward, or check online for helplines.
- Other sporting events – from professional leagues to one-off events – will have online information.