Gay, lesbian and bi teens half as likely to play sports as straight youth


Canadian researchers have found that fewer gay, lesbian and bisexual (LGB) youth tend to play sports compared to their straight counterparts.

This could, they say, be largely based on LGB teenagers not feeling welcome and included on the sports field.

The study was conducted by the University of British Columbia (UBC) in collaboration with the youth research non-profit organisation McCreary Centre Society.

It is believed to be the first of its kind to track sports involvement among LGB youth in Canada.

In 1998, five out of 10 gay students played formal or coached sports. By 2013, that proportion had dropped to three in 10. Participation also dropped among lesbian girls (to 52 per cent, from 62 per cent in 1998); bisexual girls (38 per cent, from 48 per cent), and bisexual boys (42 per cent, from 59 per cent).

Straight boys and girls were also less likely to be active in sports in recent years – proportions dropped from 71 per cent and 66 per cent in 1998 respectively, to 68 per cent and 61 per cent.

“In every year we measured, LGB youth were about half as likely, or even less, to participate in coached sports than straight youth were,” said senior author Elizabeth Saewyc, a nursing professor who leads the Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre at UBC. “And unfortunately, that gap has persisted and even widened over time.”

Participation in informal sports such as pickup games also decreased over time for youth of all sexual orientations, with the biggest drops seen for straight and bisexual males and females.

The study used data from the BC Adolescent Health Survey and involved 99,373 adolescent students across the province of British Columbia.

“This study shows how important it is for grassroots and community sports programs to reach out to and create a welcoming, inclusive space for LGBT youth,” said co-author Annie Smith, McCreary’s executive director who studies youth sports. “The decline in participation in both informal and coached sports tells us that there should be a range of exercise opportunities for young people who may not want to play traditional team sports.”

She added that if youth take part in sports and other types of physical activity they are more likely to be active in adulthood, and also to see more immediate benefits such as improved mental and physical health.

Saewyc agrees, and adds that while the research cannot explain the reason for the gap between straight and LGB youth, it’s likely that stigma and discrimination in sports clubs play a role.

“For all these reasons, it’s encouraging to see growing support for anti-homophobia measures in clubs like hockey’s NHL and the UK premier soccer league, and to have more athletes coming out as gay without fear of being stigmatised,” said Saewyc.

The study was published this month in the Journal of Sport and Health Science.

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