Locker room fears, bullying and anti-LGBT bias have prevented many within the LGBT community, especially in high school and college, from even attempting to play sports. In some cases, they have also chosen not to be spectators because of feeling unsafe.
There are likely thousands of LGBT teenagers in America who are not playing sports because they fear the repercussions of joining a community that is historically unwelcoming.
Research studies by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that high school LGBT students avoid locker rooms (39 percent), physical education class (32.5 percent) and the school sports field (22.8 percent) because of feeling unsafe.
LGBT sports advocacy groups have been producing resource guides for everyone involved in the sports community in an attempt to educate. Diversity training is now pretty much inescapable from grade school sports to professional sports.
Most of the athletes competing in the LGBT sports community of Washington, D.C. are post-college age and are experiencing exactly what the national LGBT sports advocacy groups are trying to accomplish: They are competing in a safe space and they are flourishing.
Brandon Waggoner grew up in West Texas and Tennessee. He never played sports growing up but had the desire as he taught himself how to throw a ball when he was a teenager.
“I never joined a team because I was nervous about being in the locker room,” says Waggoner.
In college, through his dorm, he began playing intramural sports as a closeted gay man and was instantly hooked. After arriving in D.C. he was playing on a team with his employer when he heard about a local gay flag football team.
“I had just come out and was unfamiliar with the athletic capabilities of gay people,” says Waggoner. “I joined the team thinking I was going to be a dominant player. Instead, I was the one who was dominated.”
Besides quarterbacking in the DC Gay Flag Football League, Waggoner has also played on the Washington DC Gay Basketball League. Along with his teammates, he has made it to the playoffs in both leagues.
Alison Samuels went to a small private high school in California and played soccer and field hockey. She was the first openly gay person at her school and despite her efforts to fit in and create a comfortable environment, she was asked by her teammates not to use the locker room.
“That happened in my junior year,” says Samuels. “I continued to play but the perception became that any female friends I had were likely gay, so I stopped having close female friends and I refused to touch or hug my female friends.”
She tried the club soccer team at Mary Washington University in her freshman year but did not fit in and decided to stop playing sports. She eventually found a safe environment on a club rugby team in her junior year.
After moving to D.C. she saw a Craigslist posting for the Federal Triangles Soccer Club and joined the team. “It is a completely different environment,” says Samuels. “More fun, more relaxed and less stress.”
Samuels is now president of the Federal Triangles Soccer Club.
Brian Sparrow grew up on naval bases including some time spent at Guantanamo Bay. His father taught him the basics of sports but his assignments took him away on ships for up to nine months at a time.
“My mom would sign me up for sports leagues,” says Sparrow. “But I spent most of my time playing sports by myself.”
Sparrow was small for his age so after his family settled in Maryland he continued to play sports in his neighborhood instead of joining team sports. After coming out, he discovered the LGBT sports community in D.C.
“Playing sports has defined me as a gay man,” says Sparrow. “I really began to flourish when I started joining the LGBT sports leagues.”
Sparrow has played with the Capital Tennis Association, Chesapeake and Potomac Softball, DC Gay Flag Football League, Capital Punishment Volleyball and the Washington, D.C. Gay Basketball League.
These athletes and thousands like them in leagues across the country express a similar appreciation for LGBT-specific programs that allow all athletes to reap the many benefits of playing sports.