OPINION: While the LGBT+ community has struggled through this year, sport has kept us lifted

by Maria Munir | Stonewall
Thursday, 26 November 2020 09:15 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Premier League - Leicester City v Watford - King Power Stadium, Leicester, Britain - December 4, 2019 General view of rainbow laces worn by a linesman in support of the Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign during the warm up before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Sport is a powerful tool for community and belonging, so we need to work harder to include LGBT+ people

Maria Munir (pronouns: they/them) is associate director of community engagement and sport at Stonewall

This year has been one of many twists and turns. The coronavirus pandemic has changed each of our daily lives, making “normality” and routine much harder to hold on to and causing a great deal of anxiety for many of us.

As we near the end of this year, which has heightened and exacerbated the ongoing issues facing LGBT+ communities, you may well be wondering why we’ve decided to run our Rainbow Laces campaign to raise awareness of LGBT+ people and issues in sport this year. 

This has been a difficult year for LGBT+ people across the UK and further afield. With many of us being stuck in homes where we can’t be ourselves, facing increased waits and barriers to healthcare, or worrying about job security, it’s clear that LGBT+ people have been particularly harmed by the COVID-19 crisis.

We are already more likely to struggle with mental health challenges, have difficult relationships with family, or more precarious living situations. And we know that people who are marginalised in multiple ways, including those of us with disabilities, those living in poverty, and LGBT+ people of colour, have been hit even harder by the effects of the virus.

From the reverberating effects of racism to unemployment, the social impact for all LGBT+ people is undeniable.

But we have also heard stories of resilience from LGBT+ people from all walks of life on how they have been looking after themselves and their communities. Many of the people who we talked to have said that during a year which has brought so much uncertainty and turmoil, sport has been a tonic, offering a space for reflection, structure, and bringing a little joy back to their day.

For many of us, taking part in sport means so much more than our daily kick of endorphins. From looking forward to a swimming group Zoom social, to finding some time to think during a morning run, sport has become so much more important to us this year.

In fact, Sport England found that the majority of people (65%) believe exercise is helping them with their mental health during the outbreak.

The power of sport is far-reaching and can give an almost unparalleled sense of belonging and community to many people. But often, LGBT+ people don’t feel that sport environments are welcoming to them, and sadly, this is the case for lots of us.

Research has shown that one in five (18%) LGBT+ young people (18 to 24) have experienced discrimination while exercising at a fitness club or at a sport group in the previous year, and three in 10 (28%) trans people had been discriminated against while exercising at a fitness club or taking part in group sport in the previous year.

This isn’t just reserved to actively participating in sports, with four in 10 LGBT people (43%) saying that they don’t think public sporting events are welcoming for them.

Indeed, 2020 hasn’t just highlighted long-standing inequality for LGBT+ people, but the events of the year have also shown us the impact of structural racism across society, including within our own community and throughout sport. Whilst many sports are creating safe spaces for LGBT+ people, LGBT+ people of colour often face increased discrimination even within our own spaces.

If anything, this year has highlighted the vital importance of community and allyship in sport, and the powerful impacts that they can have.

Now more than ever, it’s crucial that we work with our communities to lift each other up, and champion inclusion and equality for every person in every sport.

That’s why, not only are we continuing the Rainbow Laces campaign this year, but we will be focusing on exactly those things – community and allyship – by sharing stories from people who have relied on sport to get through this year.

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