Lauren McIntosh, a Siren Emerging Sports Writer, spoke to Proud2Play about their work to make sport more safe, inclusive and welcoming for the LGBTQI+ community.
One of the most daunting aspects of participating in sport is joining a new club. It’s scary to put yourself out there. You wonder, am I in the right place? Am I good enough? Will I get along with my new teammates?
For the rainbow community these questions are amplified. Will I be accepted and respected for who I am? What comments am I going to be subjected to if I share my identity? Am I actually safe here?
Working to create that safe environment for all individuals in sport is Proud2Play, whose mission is to ensure all LGBTQI+ people feel safe and confident to lead active and healthy lifestyles, in welcoming and inclusive environments. Lauren Foote (she/they), Proud2Play’s Program Officer, explains that their research found that “sporting grounds are seen to be places of discrimination”.
“[It’s] a cultural thing [with sport], of not knowing how other people are going to receive you because you’re not actively embraced,” says Lauren. “The best quote was: ‘if I don’t see a rainbow flag at a sporting club, I’m going to assume it’s an unsafe environment’.”
Lauren says the impact of an unsafe environment is that people “default to sort of just pop that little piece of me away or hide myself.” How people hide themselves can vary. Some choose to not be involved at all. For others it can derail their participation.
Proud2Play volunteer Kirsty (she/her), has always been involved in cricket. She says that while her current cricket club president is welcoming and accepting, it hasn’t always been that way. At past clubs she’s experienced discriminatory jokes of “watch your wives” and had to deal with inflexible and archaic uniforms.
The consequences of those experiences pushed Kirsty out of cricket. While she has been back playing for 10 years, she’s stayed away from being further involved in the cricket community. Now coaching kids, Kirsty says that is an additional mental challenge.
“I’m comfortable with my gayness and everyone around me. [But] in meeting new people and as a gay, I don’t know how well they take that,” she says
“You don’t introduce yourself as a gay person. I don’t to the parents because I think, then do they think I’m going to teach [their] kids to be gay?
“That’s in the back of my mind.”
During his junior sport days Tate (he/him) had always played with boys, and when faced with playing in girls footy due to age and then-perceived gender, he entered a dark space.
“I didn’t feel like I was part of them or that I was supposed to be there, not knowing why I felt like that,” Tate says.
What provided escape from this mental anguish was the positive environment his teammates created.
“I had an awesome group of girls that I got along with and really connected with and that was my escape. It turned to falling in love with the friendships I gained.”
Four years into his transition, Tate is looking to get back into sport through an inclusive low-key basketball team. The key factor is finding an environment where he can be himself and know “there [would] be someone who is there so that if I was to ever cop backlash, I would have some support behind me.”
Tate says if he wasn’t playing with family or friends, he would need to speak to a coaching team or management before joining a new club, because he feels apprehensive about how inclusive a team really is.
“Their reactions would say whether it’s going to be a supportive team or a team where they might not value you as much as they advertise,” he says.
This is where Lauren and Proud2Play’s work with local clubs and bigger organisations comes in. They work to ensure advertisements and words are met with action.
“[It’s] a scale approach,” Lauren says of working with grassroots clubs.
“For some clubs I speak to and for them to understand what LGBT stands for, that’s where they’re at. We just start really simple. We say this is important. This is the population, you’ve met someone from the [rainbow] community, and they just start to get a feel for, oh, this is important, and maybe not everyone’s equal because of marriage equality.
“And when they’re ready, we write an action plan that works for them. Maybe that’s about doing a bit of training for the whole club or thinking about a pride cup.
“It’s starting those beginner inclusion level conversations and making a safe space to feel a bit uncomfortable while you’re learning and fumbling through it.”
Tate says there are plenty of sports that could be more inclusive.
“Cricket, tennis and golf are huge ones,” he says.
There are sports which are shifting toward a skills based competition. Lauren points to a cycling club she knows of where they “don’t need to take gender anymore. [They] ask your skill level and your name and then off you go. You come and you ride like everybody else.”
Change won’t look the same across all sports however Lauren says it’s important not to let the fear of getting it wrong prevent clubs and sporting organisations from being inclusive, from learning, trying and growing.
“The fear of getting inclusion work wrong can be a barrier, however that’s why organisations like [Proud2Play] are here to deliver strategic and evidence based support.
“Part of each person’s personal journey is knowing that we can get these things wrong. However, with education, humility and support we can continue to grow and evolve.”
For Kirsty, the positive changes towards inclusivity is what brought her back into cricket.
“I was in my own little world thinking I’m pretty much the only one who feels like that. Obviously there’s more people than that. [It’s so great] somebody got in there and changed it.”
Tate says the conversation of inclusivity in the sport community, led by organisations such as Proud2Play, can do a lot to get people into, or back into, sport.
“Just to show that the LGBTQI+ is on people’s minds and that the people behind all the sporting games actually care and want to make a difference.”
Proud2Play are offering a free weekly weekend social sport initiative called Parklife, focussing on cricket and soccer skills. If this isn’t your sport, come along anyway and Proud2Play will help you find your safe space.
In light of the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions in Victoria, Parklife is now delivering as Movement Mondays which you can join from home.