According to a new study from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), LGBT students benefit greatly from school sports, but many face discrimination, harassment and assault that often impedes their performance and participation.
Gym class has been the bane of many a kid’s existence, particularly us queer kids who may not always excel at climbing a rope, taking a lap or catching/throwing/anything to do with a ball.
GLSEN’s report, The Experiences of LGBT Students in School Athletics, analyzed the discomfort LGBT students felt in phys. ed, as well as extracurricular sports, by surveying 8,584 secondary school students between the ages of 13 and 20 in 3,224 unique school districts from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The study found that (unsurprisingly) gym class was an unsafe environment for many LGBT students; these students were underrepresented on extracurricular sports teams; many LGBT students faced harassment and discrimination on sports teams; and LGBT student athletes lack support from school officials.
Among the study’s key supporting evidence:
- Many LGBT students in school participated in interscholastic sports (23.2%) or intramural sports teams (13.4%), yet LGBT students were about half as likely to play interscholastic sports as their non-LGBT peers (23.2% vs 47.8%).
- LGBT student athletes reported higher grade point averages (GPAs) as team members (3.2) and team leaders (3.4) compared to non-athletes (3.0). LGBT student athletes were also more likely to report having higher self-esteem and feelings of belonging to their school.
- More than a quarter of LGBT student athletes reported having been harassed or assaulted while playing on a school sports team because of their sexual orientation (27.8%) or gender expression (29.4%).
- More than half of LGBT students who took a P.E. class were bullied or harassed during P.E. because of their sexual orientation (52.8%) or gender expression (50.9%).
- LGBT students commonly avoided athletic spaces at school including locker rooms (39.0%), P.E. classes (32.5%) and school athletic fields and facilities (22.8%) because of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.
- A vast majority (74.9%) of LGBT students said that they were uncomfortable talking to their P.E. teachers or coaches about LGBT issues. Students who did feel comfortable talking to their P.E. teachers or coaches experienced less discomfort, harassment and assault in athletics than their peers who did not feel comfortable.
“GLSEN’s groundbreaking research has delved into nearly every aspect of school life for LGBT youth, and our findings demonstrate the concrete benefits that school athletics can provide LGBT students,” said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director. “We have also found critical gaps of safety and support that highlight the need for coaches, P.E. teachers and athletic directors to take action to ensure that school gymnasiums, playing fields and locker rooms are safe, inclusive and respectful places for all students.”