Preliminary results from the first study to capture national data on homophobia in Australian sport have put hard numbers behind the stories of discrimination faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) athletes at all levels of sport. The survey results suggest that athletes continue to experience a sporting culture that is hostile towards LGB people. Revelations this week by Australian Olympic champion Ian Thorpe that he is gay, feared the consequences of coming out and was the target of homophobia show this issue affects even the most successful Australian athletes.
Nearly 2,500 Australians have taken part in the study, called “Out on the Fields,” with participation encouraged by a range of sporting stars (eg. Sam and Tom Burgess) as well as the NRL, AFL, Cricket and ARU. The respondents include equal numbers of LGB and heterosexual people. The preliminary findings have been compiled by sports market research firm Repucom, which is conducting the research pro bono (data tables available on request) - 85% of LGB people and 75% of heterosexual participants said they have witnessed or experienced homophobia in a sporting environment either playing or as a spectator
- The majority of LGB people (64%) agree or strongly agree that homophobia (e.g., comments, jokes, insults or abuse) is more common in team sporting environments in Australia than in the general society. Heterosexual people were split on this question, with 47% agreeing while 43% disagreed
- Half of LGB people said they had been the target of homophobia (85% witnessed others being targeted)
- Interestingly, nearly one in four heterosexual men also said they had been the personal target of homophobia
- The most common form of homophobia reported by all respondents (84% of LGB people and 74% of straight people) was verbal slurs such as the words ‘fag, dyke or poofter’ followed by homophobic jokes and humour and then casual comments such as ‘that’s so gay.’
- More than 1 in 4 LGB people who had been personally targeted said they had experienced verbal threats, ongoing bullying or they were deliberately excluded from social groups. Gay men were more likely to experience these direct forms of homophobia than lesbians.
“The results are eye opening, but they also confirm what we have been hearing from our players for the last 10 years,” says David Whittaker, a founding player and president of the Sydney Convicts, Australia’s first gay rugby union club.
”Many of our players left their club or sport because of a culture where homophobic comments and behaviour are tolerated and commonplace, such as the slur by the AFL presenter broadcast last weekend. These players join teams like the Convicts to play a sport they love without worrying whether they will be accepted for their sexuality.”
The Sydney Convicts, along with the Melbourne Chargers and Brisbane Hustlers, will co-host nearly 1,000 gay players and supporters from 12 countries in Sydney next month for the Bingham Cup, the world cup of gay rugby. The study on homophobia in sport is part of wider initiatives to tackle homophobia ahead of the international tournament led by Bingham Cup organisers. This includes the historic commitment earlier this year by every, major Australian sport to introduce policies to eliminate homophobia. It also includes an anti-homophobia video featuring sport stars Nate Myles, Harry Kewell, Paul Gallen, Mitchell Johnson, Libby Trickett, Nathan Jones, and Lauren Jackson
The Out on the Fields study is being supported by a range of partners including seven researchers at 6 international universities, the Federation of Gay Games, the You Can Play Project and the Australian Sport Commission.
One of the researchers who helped with creating the study and will review the final results is Dr. Caroline Symons from Melbourne’s Victoria University.
“While gay, lesbian and bisexual people were likely to experience a wide range homophobic discrimination in sport, particularly team sports, the results also show that you don’t have to be gay, lesbian or bisexual to experience discrimination. Casual homophobic language such as jokes and humour is commonly accepted in Australian sport while gay slurs are often seen as a very demeaning way to insult someone, regardless of their sexuality” said Dr. Symons, a pioneer of research into homophobia in Australia sport. This includes a landmark study of Victorian athletes called ‘Come Out to Play’ (http://www.glhv.org.au/files/ComeOutToPlay.pdf
) Alex Blackwell is one of Australia’s only ‘out’ LGB professional athletes.
The vice-captain of the national female cricket team, the CBA Southern Stars, is a Bingham Cup Sydney 2014 ambassador. She said, “Whether you are playing elite or amateur homophobia is something we have all experienced at some point. The results of this study show that we still have a fair bit of work to do around changing sporting culture in Australia and making it a safe place for people to be open about their sexuality. Thankfully Australia’s major sports have started working together to achieve this goal and my sense is the general public is also much more aware now of the need for change.”
Although the Australian responses to two sets of questions from Out on the Fields are being released as preliminary results ahead of next month’s Bingham Cup, participants are asked a wide range of other questions during a 10-15 minute online survey. They are also given the opportunity to share their personal story. The study is being conducted internationally as well, to collect national data for other large English speaking countries. It is also the first international study on this issue. In October the full results will be analysed and released, including comparisons between Australia and countries such as the USA. People interested in taking part in the Out on the Fields study can visit www.outonthefields.com