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LGBT issues in sports 101

College curricula starting to include gay athletic topics

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Team DC, Cleveland Gay Games, gay news, Washington Blade

International competitions such as the International Gay Games have helped raise the visibility of LGBT issues in sport, leading some colleges and universities to address related issues in curricula. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A lot has changed in the realm of sports in terms of LGBT athletes and the role sports have in international LGBT politics. The call for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics in light of recent Russian laws making illegal any kind of “public” declaration of one’s sexuality is a perfect example of the important discussions about international human rights happening around sports.

Not only are more and more athletes coming out in sports, but there are out athletes entering sport and willing to be spokespeople for LGBT issues. Further, many national and international sports bodies and organizations are taking a stand on promoting inclusion and speaking out against homophobia.

Some colleges and universities are now tackling the role of sports and LGBT issues, with courses designed to talk about the history, present and future of this important pairing.

The Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto, will offer a course next year called “Sports and Sexual Diversity” in its undergraduate program.

“This course will explore the role of sports and wellness programs in promoting or impeding social inclusion, as well as their role in community building among sexual minorities,” says Scott Rayter, associate director of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies. “It will consider the ways that sexuality has been framed or regulated in sports, as well as the challenges to such limits from among athletes, LGBT community activists and others.”

The course’s coverage will range from local community and school-based programs, to national amateur and professional sporting activities, to international competitions.

Rayter says the course came about partly as a way of building on the expertise at the university in the areas of sexuality, gender and sport, and to reflect what is a growing body of research and field of study, plus an increasing interest and demand from students to study this area.

“Sport is an interesting place to study issues of sex, gender and the body, since bodies in sport are ‘ideal’ or non-normative in the sense they do not reflect what most bodies look like or are capable of, and yet sport is also a space that demonstrates an extremely rigid split between male and female bodies,” Rayter says. “There is also a growing body of research about sexual and gender violence (and hazing) in sport; it seems every day we hear about some new sex scandal in professional sports.”

At some higher learning institutions, there may not be a specific course, but inclusion of the LGBT community and sports is embedded in the curriculum itself.

Laura Burton, associate professor of sport management at the University of Connecticut, says she includes aspects of diversity and inclusion in both undergrad (Intro to Sport Management) and graduate (Management of Sport Services) courses.

“This includes sections on effectively managing diversity in sport organizations. I include examples of LGBT employees/fans/participants in sport as important constituents,” she says. “In our Issues in Sport course I will include a chapter on issues faced by the LGBT community. That section will include the experiences of athletes (participants), employees in sport organizations and fans/spectators.”

Burton understands that the LGBT community has been and will continue to be an integral part of the larger sport community and feels it’s important that they are represented in the sport management curriculum.

“Our students will work with, and some also identify as, members of the LGBT community, and this constituent group is as important as any other group of individuals with an interest in working in, participating in, or being fans of sport,” she says. “We also recognize that the LGBT community has been a marginalized/ostracized and silenced constituent within the domain of sport; it is important that we give voice to this marginalization and work toward a more inclusive sport environment.”

In the 10 years she has been including LGBT examples in her courses, Burton says she has never received a negative comment from a student.

“I have had numerous students (gay/bi/straight) tell me that they have enjoyed the openness and inclusiveness of the courses, the course content and of the program in general,” she says.

Momin Rahman, a professor at Trent University in Ontario, notes that in classes he teaches on the sociology of gender and sexuality, sport is one of the themes discussed both because it interests students and because it is often regarded as one of the last institutions of gender binaries and homophobia.

“Sports are one of the biggest entertainment industries worldwide and an everyday experience of living and seeing gender and sexuality,” he says. “Sports are a part of the socialization of childhood as well, so it is an important and wide-ranging experience that needs to be addressed seriously as a location of gender normativity and homophobia.”

Rahman says he’s touching on new topics all the time and is sure to discuss the latest LGBT issues in his classes.

“For example, trans issues have become a difficult one for organizations such as the Olympics, who are traditionally invested in keeping a binary division between men and women,” Rahman says. “We also look at how homophobia operates in sports, particularly as a normalized part of bonding in men’s sports, and how this makes it difficult for gay athletes to come out. The widespread community organization of LGBT sports, and international versions such as the OutGames, are partly a response to this.”

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Protester with Pride flag disrupts World Cup game

Protest took place during match between Portugal and Uruguay

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(Al Jazeera screenshot)

During a World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay Monday, a lone protester ran across the field waving a Pride flag moments after the second half kickoff.

Video and still images show the man wearing a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the Superman symbol and the phrase “Save Ukraine” on the front and “Respect for Iranian Woman” on the back.

Screenshot of news coverage at the World Cup 2022 games from Al Jazeera

Qatari security personnel chased him down and then marched him off the playing field. Israeli Public Radio correspondent Amichai Stein tweeted video clips of the incident:

FIFA had no immediate comment on the incident, the Associated Press noted reporting that in the first week of the tournament in Qatar, seven European teams lost the battle to wear multi-colored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches. Fans also complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.

Qatar’s laws against homosexuality and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone was welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

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Blinken criticizes FIFA threat to fine World Cup team captains with ‘one love’ armbands

Qatar criminalizes homosexuality by death

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday criticized FIFA over its threat to sanction European soccer teams if their captains wore “one love” armbands during the 2022 World Cup.

“It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression. It’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion,” Blinken told reporters during a press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha, the Qatari capital. “And in my judgment, at least, no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team.”

Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales had planned to wear the armbands in support of the LGBTQ and intersex community during the World Cup. The teams on Monday in a joint statement said they would not wear the armbands because FIFA had threatened to sanction them if their captains did.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death. A report that Human Rights Watch published last month noted several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment” of LGBTQ and intersex people while in police custody from 2019 and September 2022. 

A State Department official last week acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Blinken attended their match against Wales on Monday.

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European soccer teams won’t wear ‘one love’ armbands after FIFA threatens sanctions

World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday

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Iran plays England during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Nov. 21, 2022. (Screenshot via FS1)

Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales planned to wear “one love” armbands during the World Cup. The teams in a joint statement said FIFA threatened to sanction them if their captains wore them.

“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play,” read the statement. “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision, which we believe is unprecedented.”

“As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings,” added the statement.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

Human Rights Watch last month published a report that noted “arbitrary” arrests of LGBTQ and intersex people between 2019 and September 2022 and several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment in police custody” during the aforementioned period. World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman earlier this month described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” during an interview with a German television station.

Peter Tatchell, a British activist, on Oct. 25 protested the country’s LGBTQ and intersex rights record while standing outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, the country’s capital. A State Department official on Nov. 18 acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend their match against Wales on Monday.

England played Iran on Monday. The Netherlands on Monday will play Senegal.

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