Four LGBTQ athletes, including Anne Lieberman and Phaidra Knight led the panel "Creating Supportive Environments: A Conversation with LGBTQ Athletes," at a conference held by the LA84 Foundation at Loyola Marymount University in June.
South Torrance High School

LGBTQ advocacy in the athletic community

There has been a significant rise in advocacy by and for the LGBTQ community in the past few decades. More recently, LGBTQ individuals have stepped forward to raise awareness about a more specific issue in their community: LGBTQ discrimination in the athletic field.

Although it is rarely talked about, homophobia and transphobia are astronomically prevalent in sports. This can largely be attributed to the general state of sports culture, but more pressingly, a lack of education on the subject for members of the athletic community.

“Sports are kind of the final frontiers of really intense sex segregation, and sports also teaches us a very narrow definition of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman,” said Anne Lieberman, the director of policy and programs at AthleteAlly. “So the way masculinity and femininity learned in sports are rooted in very, sexist and homophobic ideas.”

In June, four LGBTQ athletes, including Lieberman, led the panel “Creating Supportive Environments: A Conversation with LGBTQ Athletes,” at a conference held at Loyola Marymount University in partnership with the LA84 Foundation and West Coast Conference. The panelists discussed the topic of LGBTQ issues in sports and the steps they believe the athletic community needs to take in order to create safe spaces for all athletes. This ties in with the LA84 foundation’s initiative of closing the Play Equity gap.

Lieberman highlighted the shocking statistics regarding homophobia in sports during the panel, noting that over 80 percent of people have noticed or witnessed homophobia in sports, only one percent of LGBTQ people feel as though they are accepted in sports, and over 78 percent of people feel that an out LGBTQ individual simply watching a game from the stands would not be safe there.

In addition to this, the lack of openly queer LGBTQ athletes in the community only aids in the stigma surrounding the treatment of the issue. The way that advocates aim to minimize the discrimination that LGBTQ athletes face is through education.

“I think that coaches need to go through training that pertains with how to deal with all students, no matter their sexuality, race, or gender,” said Phaidra Knight, an openly lesbian professional rugby player.

Knight said that even though there may not be as many outwardly homophobic acts conducted in sports anymore, the lack of speaking out against issues like LGBTQ athletes feeling uncomfortable in locker rooms or the common use of homophobic slurs by teammates is just as harmful to the LGBTQ individuals in the community.

“We’ve seen that those who should be educated the most, are educated the least,” Lieberman said. “What we’ve found is that there are a lot of coaches who want that education and who want to learn, but [who] don’t feel comfortable talking about the issue or asking questions because they don’t want to offend anybody.”

These brave athletes have shined a light on an issue that the athletic community, and the general public, have long overlooked. In making sure that coaches and athletes are educated on LGBTQ related topics, we can begin to secure the safety of LGBTQ athletes in their sporting environments, whether they are out or not.