Sports can be an intimidating environment for gay men and women although a vast amount of gay and lesbian people play, some competing at the top of their field. Big profile sportsmen and women have come out in the last few years, but there are still many that haven't.
You’ll find some sports have more openly gay people than others and, as a general rule, there are more openly gay women than men. Individual sports also tend to have a higher proportion of openly gay competitors than team sports. There are several reasons for this, which are discussed in the rest of this article.
Male team sports, the likes of football, rugby and cricket can be particularly daunting for gay men. The ‘lad’ culture tends to be particularly homophobic and, whilst the majority is not meant with any malice and seen only as banter, jokes can quickly escalate and become hurtful.
Whilst there is much less of a homophobic attitude in female sports, being openly gay can still be very challenging. A number of sports that require top athletes to be together for a long period of time have stigmas attached to them regarding the proportion of gay and lesbian competitors. This is particularly true in golf and tennis, where long tours mean competitors are constantly together in hotels and accommodation and naturally rumours spring up.
Drinking is also heavily associated with amateur sports and, when you’re in the pub with friends, there’s likely to be lots of talk regarding the opposite sex and sometimes, speculation will arise about certain people’s sexuality. If you’ve not come out this could be potentially awkward, especially if the conversation is about a partner of yours.
How to react really depends on your situation and whether or not you or your partner is openly gay. Never out someone else as this is a serious breach of their trust, even if it does get you attention. You can either ignore the conversation or even join in, but be careful you don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. You could even just come out and tell them you’re gay; although this is a massive step and one that you should be comfortable with.
So is it worth coming out as gay to your fellow teammates or coaches? The old bigoted view that gay people somehow want to attract straight teammates is still alive, although fading, with sports fans more likely to comment than your teammates. Ian Roberts, an openly gay Australian rugby league international said "I take offense at the old locker room argument which assumes a man cannot, in any circumstances, control his urges.”
You’re likely to find, once you’re respected for your sporting talent, whether people think you’re gay or not won’t affect how they treat you. Men especially will treat you exactly the same as they’ve seen that you are just as competitive, strong or fast as they are, which counts far more than your sexual orientation.
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