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Homosexuality in sports

LGBT sportspeople have, in modern times, faced intolerance common in many vocations and arguably worse than some due to the heteronormativity of sports teaching in schools.

There have been several notable outspoken homosexual athletes, including Sheryl Swoopes,[1] Billie Jean King[2] and Billy Bean.[3] In the 1980s Tom Waddell, an Olympic decathlete, hosted the first Gay Games in San Francisco.[4] Since then many homosexual sporting organizations have been founded along with sporting events that feature homosexual athletes.[5][6]

While, overall the trend is towards open acceptance, different sports vary widely and homosexual athletes still face many challenges. International sports organisations have come under scrutiny for holding competitions in countries where LGBT equality is out of step with their own policies.

Homophobia in sports culture

Heteronormativity can be seen as the dominant paradigm in sports culture, stemming all the way into children's athletics in school.[7] Heteronormativity describes "the myriad ways in which heterosexuality is produced as a natural, unproblematic, taken-for-granted, ordinary phenomenon." It is defined as a world/ common view of heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexuality.[8] This way of thinking is often taken to the extreme in sports culture, as a wide body of sociological scholarship has documented the emphasis of hegemonic masculinity in sports.[9] Arnd Krüger has shown that the history of homosexuality in sports in closely linked to the history of sports and goes back until antiquity.[10] The priority of heteronormative thinking in athletics has led to a traditional view in sports culture that is highly intolerant of homosexuality.[11] This homophobic attitude has been documented in adolescent sports especially, as a recent study by Osborne and Wagner showed that male adolescents who participated in football were significantly more likely to hold homophobic attitudes than other peers their age.

In a 2009 study on the well being of same-sex-attracted youth in the United States, Wilkinson and Pearson found that lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression in same-sex attracted youth were correlated with the prevalence of football in high schools (2009). Sociology researchers Sartore and Cunningham also found a similar stigmatization in the view of homosexual coaches, as high school parents were shown to have an unwillingness to allow their children to be coached by a homosexual (2009). They also found a similar attitude from high school athletes themselves toward participating on teams coached by either gay or lesbian coaches (2009). In spite of the apparent prevalence of homophobic thinking in athletic culture, recent scholarship has documented an increasing trend toward openly gay athletes in high school and collegiate level sports.[12]

This trend, however, has not been seen in professional sports, where homosexuality still remains largely stigmatized in the four major North American professional sports leagues. Only Jason Collins of the NBA has come out while active, and only eight players have come out after their careers were over: Wade Davis, Kwame Harris, Dave Kopay, Roy Simmons, and Esera Tuaolo (NFL); Billy Bean and Glenn Burke (MLB); and John Amaechi (NBA).[13] This same trend can also be found in England's Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), as a recent ad campaign devised by the PFA against homophobia failed because no professional football player was willing to associate themselves with the advertisement.[14]

Although professional team sports remain dominated by heterosexuality, individual sports, such as tennis have had more openly gay athletes as is evidenced by the lack of out players in professional teams sports, and the increasing numbers of individual athletes who have publicly come out as LGBT. Recent attempts by organizations such as the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) have also been made to break down homophobic attitudes in collegiate and professional team sports. NCLR has worked with the San Francisco 49ers, as well as collegiate athletic departments at universities such as North Carolina, Florida, and Stanford at revising team policies to more openly accommodate LBGT athletes.[15]

There is also a gender difference when it comes to the responses to male and female athletes who come out as LGBT. Male athletes coming out is treated more as a major announcement whereas female athletes face an expectation that their athleticism somehow implies they are more masculine, and therefore unsurprisingly LGBT. Brittney Griner softened the blowback from announcing her sexuality, by casually announced her coming out in an interview almost immediately after being drafted into the WNBA. This was a month before Jason Collins came out and there was a media uproar for him while there was barely any coverage over Griner's announcement.[16]

Legal cases in the USA

The case of Jennifer Harris against Penn State and more specifically their women's basketball coach Rene Portland.[17] In 2006, a gay rights advocacy group, The National Center for Lesbian Rights, accused Rene Portland of forcing Jennifer Harris to transfer because of bias against lesbians. The advocacy group claimed that Portland was biased against lesbians for decades and cited a 1986 interview in which she claimed she talked to recruits and parents of recruits about lesbians stating, "I will not have it in my program." There were also claims of Portland telling key recruits (in order to keep them from going to rival schools) that the other team was "full of lesbians." The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court and Penn State found Portland in violation of policy. She was fined $10,000 by the university in lieu of a one game suspension and warned that another infraction would result in the termination of her employment.[18] Rene Portland eventually resigned from her position as women's head basketball coach.[citation needed] This case has been seen as a success for the LGBT movement in ridding sports of homophobic discrimination.[citation needed]

LGBT leagues, teams and events

File:Pride London 2011 - 082.jpg
Gay martial artists marching in Pride London 2011.
File:Pride London 2011 - 081.jpg
Gay football and rugby players marching in Pride London 2011.

In the absence of openly-LGBT sportspersons, LGBT-focused leagues and events have been created since the late 1970s. One of the earliest-recorded gay sports event organizing committees is the Federation of Gay Games (initially known as the United States Gay Olympics Committee), which was established in 1980 by Tom Waddell, Mark Brown and Paul Mart to organize the first Gay Games (1982) in San Francisco; another organization, Apollo - Friends in Sports, was established in 1981 to organize the Western Cup, a multi-sport event for gay and lesbian athletes in Calgary, Alberta. By 1989, the European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation was formed to organize the EuroGames for LGBT athletes in Europe.

In 2006, a schism occurred between the Federation of Gay Games and the Montreal organizing committee for the Gay Games, leading to the Montreal committee organizing a rival multi-sports event, the World Outgames, which continues to the present. The sponsoring organization for the Outgames, the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association, has also organized smaller, regional multi-sports events, including the North American and Asia-Pacific Outgames.

Various international LGBT sport-specific organizations have been established as well since the 1970s.


The Sydney Convicts RFC were launched in 2004 as Australia's first gay rugby union team.


Canada boasts a large LGBT sport community, having hosted the inaugural World OutGames. Local organizations like Équipe Montréal,[19] OutSport Toronto and Team Vancouver[20] represent LGBT sport within their respective cities.

In December 2013, The 519 received Toronto City Council approval to build a sport and recreation centre focused on sport inclusion. Once built, the new centre will provide a home to Toronto's over 6,000 LGBT sport participants.[21]

France teams

Paris Foot Gay was established in 2003.


The first gay rugby team in Ireland, Emerald Warriors RFC, was established in 2003.

United Kingdom

The first openly-gay football team formed in the United Kingdom is Stonewall F.C., which was formed in 1991. The next year, Gay Football Supporters Network was formed; a GFSN National League was formed 2002 among GFSN members who wanted to participate in amateur competition as well as support major professional teams.

The first openly-gay rugby team in the world, the Kings Cross Steelers, was formed in 1995 in London. The first openly-gay rugby team in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Titans, was formed in 2007, and the first Scottish gay rugby team, the Caledonian Thebans RFC, was formed in 2002.

In 1996, Grace's Cricket Club was organized as the first gay cricket club in the world.

Ishigaki Ju Jitsu Club began in 1994 and pride's itself on being the "Only LGBT Ju Jitsu Club in the World'.

The first decade of the 21st century saw two high-profile Welsh rugby union figures come out while active. First, in 2007, international referee Nigel Owens came out.[22] Then, in 2009, Gareth Thomas, at the time the country's most-capped player (and later a rugby league international), came out. Thomas was believed to be the first professional male player in a team sport to come out while active.[23]

United States teams

In 1974, the LA Pool League was established as the first gay competitive pool league in the United States.

The Big Apple Softball League (initially known as the Manhattan Community Athletic Association) was initially formed in 1977 for gay softball players in the New York City area. That same year, the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance was formed for future gay softball teams.

In 1978, the Los Angeles Tennis Association was established.


The New York Ramblers was started in 1980 when an ad was placed in the Village Voice to gay men who wanted to play soccer as a team called the Rambles.

In 1980, the International Gay Bowling Organization (IGBO) was formed.

In 1981, the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance was formed.

In 1982, the West Hollywood Aquatics was formed as a swim and water polo team. That same year, the West Hollywood Wrestling Club was organized as the first gay competitive wrestling team in the United States.

In 1985, the Los Angeles Blades was organized as the first gay hockey team in the United States.

In 1986, following the second Gay Games, Tony Jasinski organized the San Francisco Gay Basketball Association by organizing basketball games at the Hamilton United Methodist Church's Earl Paltenghi Youth Center Gymnasium.


In 1998, the Washington Renegades RFC was formed as the first gay rugby team in the United States.

In 1999, the New York City Gay Hockey Association was organized.


In 2013, soccer's Robbie Rogers and basketball’s Jason Collins each publicly announced their homosexuality.[24]

See also


  1. ^ LZ Granderson (October 28, 2008). "Three-time MVP 'tired of having to hide my feelings'". ESPN The Magazine. Retrieved 2008-12-11. 
  2. ^ The Legacy of Billie Jean King, an Athlete Who Demanded Equal Play
  3. ^ Bugg, Sean (May 15, 2003). "Out of the Park: Former pro-baseball player Billy Bean pursues a new field of dreams". Metro Weekly. Retrieved June 11, 2014. 
  4. ^ "The brief history of gay athletes". 1998-12-18. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  5. ^[dead link]
  6. ^ "Welcome to "The Games that Change the World" - Federation of Gay Games". Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  7. ^ Wilkinson & Pearson 2009 (
  8. ^ "Heteronormative". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ A. KRÜGER (1999). The Homosexual and Homoerotic in Sport, in: James RIORDAN & Arnd KRÜGER (eds.): The International Politics of Sport in the 20th Century. London: Routledge, pp.191 – 216. ISBN 0-419-21160-8
  11. ^ "Donnelly and Young (1988) The construction and confirmation of identity in sport subcultures". Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  12. ^ In the Game: Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity - Eric Anderson - Google Books. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  13. ^ "John Amaechi: changing the way sport reporters examine gay athletes". J Homosex 56 (7): 799–818. 2009. PMID 19802757. doi:10.1080/00918360903187788. 
  14. ^ "Taylor Claims Gay Issue Not Easy For Stars". The Independent (London). 12 February 2010. 
  15. ^ "NCLR: issues & cases > sports > sports project overview". Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  16. ^ Aalai, Azadeh. "Why Athletes' Coming Out Matters". Psychology Today. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  17. ^ "Group says Penn State coach biased - Women's College Basketball - ESPN". 2005-10-11. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  18. ^ [1][dead link]
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Bevan, Nathan (2007-05-20). "Ref's gay torment". Wales on Sunday. Retrieved 16 July 2007. 
  23. ^ Smith, Gary (3 May 2010). "Gareth Thomas... The Only Openly Gay Male Athlete". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 12 June 2010. 
  24. ^ Slater, J. (September 17, 2013). "Openly Gay Male Athletes Jason Collins, Robbie Rogers, and Orlando Cruz struggling for impact". The Huffington Post.