Survey Shows Wide Acceptance for LGBTQ Student-Athletes

Fordyce Redbugs high school football players practice, at their home field in Fordyce, Arkansas
LGBTQ athletes in high school and college reported high levels of LGBTQ acceptance after coming out to their teammates.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Coinciding with National Coming Out Day, a new joint report conducted by Outsports, the University of Winchester, and the Sports Equality Foundation is challenging long-held stereotypes about pervasive homophobia on school sports teams.

Findings from 1,000 LGBTQ college and high school athletes revealed that they received significant acceptance for their sexual orientation and gender identity after coming out to their teammates. More than 95 percent of LGBTQ respondents said they received a “neutral” or “perfect” response to coming out on their team. In comparison, approximately 4.6 percent of athletes had a “bad” or worse experience, according to the report. This research suggests that camaraderie among teammates creates a welcoming environment for newly out LGBTQ athletes.

Eric Anderson, a researcher in the study and professor of Sport, Health, and Social Sciences at the University of Winchester, said the report mirrors a history of LGBTQ inclusion in sports.

“This reflects years of research that I have conducted on smaller scales, all showing athletes are more comfortable with gay teammates than most anyone thought possible,” Anderson said in the report. “Athletes across sports and across genders love their gay teammates, and they support their gay teammates, and this goes beyond differences of sexual orientation.”

The report noted that college LGBTQ athletes tend to have a better coming out experience than high school sports players. Approximately 88.4 percent of college respondents had at least a “good” response from teammates, while three percent said they had a “bad” response. In contrast, 71.3 percent of high school athletes said they had a “good” experience coming out to teammates and 7.4 percent said their teammates’ response was “bad.”

“I correlated my athletic experiences in high school, which was hyper masculine, to what I thought would happen in college,” LGBTQ volleyball player Landon Bordner of Wilkes University said in the report. “To my surprise, everything was completely different, and everyone was so welcoming. It made me the student athlete and pharmacist I am today.”

Only 29 of 1,000 LGBTQ sports players that were surveyed came out to their teammates as transgender. As trans athletes continue to face a wave of efforts to impose transphobic restrictions in school sports, it comes as no surprise that 17.2 percent reported a bad or negative experience after coming out to their team. Despite these findings, approximately 68.9 percent of trans athletes said they had a “good or better experience” being out to teammates.

Although the latest research suggests growing acceptance for LGBTQ athletes, three individuals surveyed said they experienced a “worse-possible scenario” after disclosing their LGBTQ identity to their teammates. Out lesbian track and field player Susie Poore of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania said her teammates taunted her after coming out.

“I often found myself as the punchline of the joke, intentional or not, and some of my teammates liked to use my identity to get a laugh when it was convenient for them,” Poore said in the report.

Nearly 9.8 percent of LGBTQ athletes said their teammates responded “worse” to them coming out than their classmates. According to the study, approximately 31.7 percent of LGBTQ respondents reported that their teammates were more accepting of their sexual orientation or gender identity than their peers in school.

More than half of the LGBTQ athletes surveyed said it was common to hear anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from their teammates before they came out. Overall, incidences of homophobic language appeared to decrease after an athlete disclosed their LGBTQ identity.

Researchers concluded their report by noting that education could buffer anti-LGBTQ experiences on sports teams. Visibility, of course, helps too, and this year we have seen coming out stories from players like NFL player Carl Nassib, as well as historic queer representation at the Olympics and Paralympics.

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