For LGBTQ+ youth, playing sports can be tricky. On one hand, participating could be beneficial to your child and give them a sense of belonging. On the other hand, anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is common in the locker room, so your child may not feel safe or comfortable in that environment.. Today we’ll talk about how to advocate for your child and increase their odds of having a positive experience with sports.
It’s common knowledge that participating in sports has a positive impact on youth development. It improves physical well-being and helps young people feel a sense of belonging and community. For LGBTQ+ youth, the impact of sports is more nuanced. If the team environment is supportive and accepting, participating in sports can help prevent many of the issues that they struggle with as a result of the anti-LGBTQ+ bias in our society (i.e. depression, suicide, etc.).
Unfortunately, many LGBTQ+ youth actually avoid participating in sports at all because they’re afraid of being bullied or discriminated against in that environment. A 2019 survey showed that nearly half of LGBTQ+ students avoid the locker room and PE/gym class because they felt unsafe there5. Having a coach that they feel comfortable talking to increases the chance that they’ll have a good experience, though some studies show LGBTQ+ youth are much less comfortable talking with PE/gym teachers than school counselors5.
In addition, many states are now passing laws that ban transgender and non-binary youth from participating in sports in alignment with their gender identity4. These types of laws can be devastating to those affected kids and their families. Not only are they being discriminated against, but they’re missing out on an activity that improves outcomes all across the board. Kids who participate in sports do better academically, they make better health decisions, and they learn social and problem-solving skills, among other things3.
Given this context, it may seem like the odds are stacked against your LGBTQ+ child, but there are steps you can take to help them have a positive experience and reap the benefits of participating in sports.
First, talk to your child about their hopes and fears for participating in sports. What has their experience (if any) been so far? What do they need from you to be able to play their sport and feel safe and supported? Then, do research about laws that affect your particular state, learn about school policies, and ask questions. GLSEN has a comprehensive Game Plan for Parents, Caregivers, and Families that can put you on the right path.
Talk to the coaches
Getting to know the coaches before the season starts is a great way to gauge what your child’s experience might be like. If your child is older and they feel comfortable, they could talk to the coach themselves or have you come along for moral support. If the coach is open to learning more, you can even share some resources with them about working with LGBTQ+ athletes. The Trevor Project has a campaign called Reform the Locker Room1 that has a free training course specifically designed for coaches.GLSEN also has a free guide for coaches of LGBTQ+ youth.
Talk to school administrators
Find out about anti-bullying policies in place at school and share the information with your child. LGBTQ+ students at schools with more comprehensive policies in place experience less victimization2. Knowing the policies and what to do if something does happen can help them feel more protected going into the season.
Learn about LGBTQ+ professional athletes with your child
If you’re in a more rural area and your child feels isolated as an LGBTQ+ athlete, one great way to show them they’re part of something bigger is to learn about all the incredible LGBTQ+ athletes that are coming out and working for inclusivity in their sport. OutSports6 is a great website that celebrates LGBTQ+ people in sports and can be an inspiring resource for your child.
All youth should feel safe and comfortable playing sports, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. As parents, let us be vocal advocates for our children so that they can do what they love and reap the benefits of participating in sports.
For more information, check out the following resources:
- Reforming the Locker Room – The Trevor Project https://www.thetrevorproject.org/blog/reforming-the-locker-room/
- Changing the Game – Game Plan for Parents, Caregivers, and Families – GLSEN https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/ctg/GLSEN_CTG2021_Parents-Caregivers_Families_Guide.pdf
- Play to Win: Improving The LIves of LGBTQ+ Youth in Sports https://assets2.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/PlayToWin-FINAL.pdf
- Sports Bans – PFLAG https://pflag.org/resource/sports-bans/
- LGBTQ Students and School Sports Participation GLSEN Research Brief https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2022-02/LGBTQ-Students-and-School-Sports-Participation-Research-Brief.pdf
- OutSports https://www.outsports.com/