Nearly half of young gay sportsmen experience homophobia

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Nearly half of young gay men who play sports in New Zealand have been the target of bullying, assaults and slurs, new research has found.

The international peer-reviewed study by Monash University in Melbourne analysed survey responses from 1173 lesbian, gay and bisexual young people from New Zealand, Ireland, Canada and Australia.

It found 42 percent of gay and bisexual young males in this country reported they had been the victim of homophobic bullying in team sports, while New Zealand youth were the least likely to report coming out to their teammates in sport.

The study's lead author Erik Denison said the results were "alarming", showing not much had changed in team sports in more than five years.

"Sport seems to be stuck in the 80s where nothing is changing in terms of the homophobic banter that's going on. I don't think that's surprising because nothing has been done to change this behaviour," he said.

"Behaviour doesn't change on its own particularly when we know this behaviour's being driven by culture and norms in sport not homophobic attitudes. Just telling people to be diverse and inclusive isn't going to change this behaviour you need to go in there and use science based approaches to change the culture and change the norms and the ultimate outcome is creating a better culture for everyone."

The Coming Out Study: NZ Sport is the first to statistically investigate whether LGB young people aged between 15 and 21 years, who come out to their teammates, are more or less likely to be a target of homophobic behaviour.

It found overall 33 percent New Zealand youth reported they had been a target of homophobic bullying, assaults, slurs, and other behaviours in team sports, but young men were more likely to report abuse.

"We hoped that the LGB youth who came out in New Zealand sport would report less homophobic behaviour because the country is very progressive on these issues. We expected everyone around them would stop the homophobic banter and other behaviours we know remain common in team sports," said Denison.

"We didn't expect that so many young people would report being the target of harmful behaviours that included slurs, bullying, assaults, and derogatory jokes. Being the target of these behaviours, or even just being exposed to these behaviours, increases the likelihood that a young LGB New Zealander will self-harm, or attempt suicide. These behaviours also deter them from playing sports."

UN agencies have called for data that can be used to develop effective solutions to protect LGBTQ youth from discrimination.

Denison said multiple peer reviewed studies in New Zealand, and elsewhere, have found promises to tackle such discrimination in sports have not been kept and there has been little meaningful action.

"LGBTQ community advocates have been saying this for years, but we now have multiple peer-reviewed studies confirming their perception. There is strong evidence that LGB youth are harmed by homophobic and transphobic behaviours. This is a serious public health problem that requires urgent action from politicians and governments."

He said there are two simple measures being trialled with sporting clubs overseas that have so far proven effective in reducing homophobic language on the field.

These were to enourage team captains to manage the culture of their teams and set standards of behaviour, and for sports clubs to host pride games.

Denison will meet with MP Louisa Wall, a former sportswoman, to discuss solutions, later this week.

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