Sports increase well-being of gay and lesbian athletes

By Beth Gallagher
Marketing and Strategic Communications

Involvement in lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) sport groups makes gay and lesbian athletes feel better about their sexual identity and helps them come out in their everyday lives, according to research from the University of Waterloo.Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride flag

“Contrary to what some people are saying during the Olympic Games in Russia, sexuality is part of sport because it’s part of life,” says Steven Mock, assistant professor in Waterloo’s Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies.

“My research shows that sport is very important for people - socially and emotionally - and it really gives them an important forum to express their identity and get support,” he said.

Sports heal effects of discrimination

Mock’s research team surveyed adults before and after they had participated in sports leagues organized for the LGBT community. The research, conducted through the Sexual Minority Sport Group Project, shows that LGBT sport group participation helps people feel better about themselves as gays and lesbians and affirms their sexual identity.

“The research shows that LGBT-focused sports involvement is especially helpful for people who have had very negative experiences related to homophobia, harassment and discrimination,” adds Mock. “It helps them come to terms with their identity and increases the likelihood of them disclosing their sexual minority identity in their everyday life.”

Organizations that serve LGBT amateur athletes have been around for decades. While they are open to heterosexual individuals, their mandate is to support the LGBT community. Most of the respondents from Mock’s research were involved in OUTSPORT Toronto, although there are leagues in smaller communities.

Is a kiss just a kiss?

Mock says sexual orientation is part of sport and is embedded in the Olympic experience. A good example, he points out, is the moment when Canadian speed skater Charles Hamelin rushed to kiss his girlfriend, speed skater Marianne St-Gelais, after winning the gold medal in Sochi.

“What would have happened if that was a same-sex kiss?” asks Mock. “Sexual orientation is part of sports. The Olympics is the pinnacle of athletic achievement. It’s ridiculous to cancel out part of a person’s identity.”

Mock has presented his findings at national and international conferences. The research is supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC.)