• Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

LGBTQ+ History Month in Sports: How the sporting world has championed the movement and how we can do so much more

ByMia Prince-Kelly

Feb 12, 2024

The sporting world has always been one of the great unifiers within our world and has championed social issues multiple times throughout history, whether it be tackling racism or supporting the LGBTQ+ movement. 

The collaboration and team spirit integral to the sporting world play a huge part in the creation of safe spaces for LGBTQ+ sportspeople and fans. Non-profit fan organisations such as the Gay Football Supporters Network and the inauguration and expansion of sporting competitions have played a crucial role in LGBTQ+ struggles against discrimination.

One particular example that I would like to recall this LGBTQ+ history month is the Gay Games, founded in 1982 in San Francisco by physician and Olympic decathlete Tom Waddell. The mission of the Gay Games, according to their website, “is to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion through sport and culture,” combating the prejudice faced by many LGTBQ+ athletes in mainstream sporting competitions. Most recently hosted in Hong Kong and Guadalajara, the Games are set to take place in Valencia in 2026 for the twelfth ceremony since their foundation. The Federation of Gay Games continues to develop in line with their central mission of inclusion; in August 2022, they released an updated Gender Policy that states that participants “should be able to take part in the Gay Games in the gender category they feel truly reflects their identity.”

It is important to consider that though many mainstream sporting competitions and fan groups may be open to LGBTQ+ athletes, this “openness” is not always practically and continuously applied. While UK football has incorporated such initiatives as the Rainbow Laces campaign and the FA’s endorsement of Football vs. Homophobia, anti-LGBTQ+ abuse persists. The ‘Out on the Fields’ study of 2015 revealed that 84% of participants reported hearing homophobic jokes in sport and 73% believed that youth sports were not a “supportive and safe” place” for LGB sportspeople. Though legislation and policies from sporting governing bodies go some way to protect LGBTQ+ fans and athletes, more active efforts are needed to transform sporting culture. 

Reporting hate crimes and discrimination can be a stressful and difficult procedure for LGBTQ+ people in sports, and the mechanisms set up to facilitate this are not the final or only step involved in making sporting environments genuinely safe and inclusive. Events like the Gay Games, which continue to pursue as their first priority the inclusion of often marginalised identities, should be an exemplar to which other sporting bodies look in order to truly welcome LGBTQ+ people into their competitions and fan bases.

Illustration via Lucy Keegan