A new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia has found that there has been declining participation in sports amongst gay, lesbian, and bisexual teenagers.
Five out of 10 gay male students played formal or coached sports in 1998, but this proportion steadily dropped to three in 10 by 2013. Similarly, participation fell among lesbians from 62% in 1998 to 52% in 2013, bisexual girls from 48% to 38%, and bisexual boys from 59% to 42%.
“In every year we measured, LGB youth were about half as likely, or even less, to participate in coached sports than straight youth were,” said senior author Elizabeth Saewyc, a nursing professor who leads the Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre at UBC. “And unfortunately, that gap has persisted and even widened over time.”
Saewyc notes that while the research does not explain the reason for the gap between straight and gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth, it is likely that stigma and discrimination play a role in sports clubs.
“For all these reasons, it’s encouraging to see growing support for anti-homophobia measures in clubs like hockey’s NHL and the UK premier soccer league, and to have more athletes coming out as gay without fear of being stigmatized,” said Saewyc.
Earlier this month, a number of NHL teams announced a roster of players as LGBTQ-inclusion ambassadors as part of a campaign to fight homophobia in sports. With the Vancouver Canucks, they named Henrik Sedin as their ambassador.
However, she adds that there is a general overall downward trend in youth taking up sports. Straight boys and girls are now less likely to be active in sports, with proportions dropping more modestly from 71% and 66% in 1998 respectively, to 68% and 61%.
Across the board, teenagers of all sexual orientations are participating less in informal sports such as pickup games, but the decreases are most significant for youth of minority sexual orientations.
“This study shows how important it is for grassroots and community sports programs to reach out to and create a welcoming, inclusive space for LGBT youth,” said co-author Annie Smith, McCreary’s executive director who studies youth sports. “The decline in participation in both informal and coached sports tells us that there should be a range of exercise opportunities for young people who may not want to play traditional team sports.”
When youth take part in sports and physical activity in general, they are more likely to be active in adulthood and experience more immediate benefits such as better mental and physical health.
The UBC study used data from the BC Adolescent Health Survey and involved nearly 100,000 students across the province. It was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and published this month in the Journal of Sport and Health Science.