Sports have a problem with homophobia. According to a study by GLSEN, gay high school students are nearly half as likely to participate in team sports and nearly a quarter of those who do participate in team sports or PE classes report being harassed because of their orientation.
Adolescence and young adulthood are especially critical times for gay people. LGBT people that age are more likely to be depressed than their straight peers and gay males at that age are 55 percent more likely to attempt suicide or have suicidal thoughts. Roughly half of these suicidal thoughts are connected to their orientation.
In a sick irony, those young people that do brave participate in sports have higher GPA’s and report having a higher self-esteem than those who don’t. Studies have long suggested that participation in sports can reduce depression and anxiety well into young adulthood. Clearly, sports can have a positive impact on gay people’s lives but not if the culture of homophobia persists.
School administrators and national sporting bodies have already made important steps to ensure that LGBT people feel safe and welcome on sports teams. Nondiscrimination and inclusion policies remove institutional barriers toward LGBT people and help reduce harassment from teammates and opponents but more needs to be done.
Gay and inclusive teams make welcoming players of all orientations — including those who have been excluded from other teams – central to their mission. National and international organizations like International Gay Rugby, the National Gay Basketball Association or National Gay Flag Football League all support these local gay teams and represent their interests to national bodies.
International Gay Rugby is one of the largest gay sports organizations. It has 56 member teams around the world and has worked with rugby’s highest organizing bodies to enact nondiscrimination policies and to win logistical support for local teams.
My team, the Nashville Grizzlies, will be hosting the world championship of IGR this May. First held in 2002 and named after September 11 hero Mark Bingham, the Bingham Cup should attract over 1500 players and supporters representing 45 from around the world. This will be the first time since 2010 that the biennial Bingham Cup has been hosted in the United States and the first time it has ever been hosted in the mid-South.
We will be taking the inclusive mission of the Grizzlies and IGR a step further and will be conducting suicide prevention training sessions for all coaches and interested players in partnership with our charity of choice, Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN). TSPN is the statewide suicide prevention nonprofit in Tennessee and has done important work in a state where suicide is a leading cause of death for adults. Scott Ridgway, TSPN’s executive director, hopes that the sessions will help “spread the message of suicide prevention across the U.S. and around the world”
It is our hope that coaches and supporters can take what they learn back to their home unions where they can have the greatest impact on making rugby more inclusive.
For more information on the Nashville Grizzlies, go here.