The fight continues against gay-hate in sport

From modest beginnings with an ambition to encourage participation in LGBT sports, Pride Sports has now grown to become one of Europe’s leading advocates for fighting homophobia in sport and educating the world about why gay sport matters.

We spoke with director Louise Englefield to find out more.

Why was Pride Sports established?

Originally Pride Sports was established as a vehicle for Pride Games, the UK’s first LGBT annual multi-sport festival, which was launched in 2005 by a group of volunteers. In our first year we focused very much on delivering Pride Games and using the festival as a way to launch some new LGBT sports groups in Manchester.

We saw Pride Games as a unique way to get more LGBT people involved in sport. We soon came to realise, however, that providing welcoming environments within the LGBT community for people to take part in sport was only half the story. If we really wanted to open up opportunities for LGBT to enjoy sport, then there was a whole education piece to be done in mainstream sport in the UK.

What are some of the projects that Pride Sports is currently involved in?

Football v Homophobia is an initiative run by Pride Sports and the Justin Campaign. It’s an international initiative, so there has been a huge amount of work to do both in the UK and abroad.

We have produced a guide on engaging young LGBT people in sport for LGBT Youth North West, which we wrote in consultation with young people.

We’ve also supported the launch of the world’s first LGBT rugby league club, Manchester Canalsiders.

How does Pride Sports engage with grass roots LGBT sports clubs and organisations?

We provide advice on setting up sports, funding, coaching and a range of other issues to LGBT sports groups, and we have provided some sponsorship for events for LGBT sport across the UK.

Is the work of Pride Sports just limited to the UK?

Pride Sports has always been an active member of the European Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation and a member of both the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association and the Federation of Gay Games. As such, we have been involved in a number of international projects.

Also, Football v Homophobia is an international campaign, so we have been working globally on that initiative. Through our FvH small grants program, we’ve supported events in Russia, Mexico, Montenegro, and Germany.

What are some of the challenges in running an organisation such as Pride Sports?

Money — boringly! We receive no core funding for the work we do in the UK and, at times, that can be soul destroying. Especially when we have been the only organisation working in our field for so long. Now we have LEAP Sports Scotland, which is great news, but money for Pride Sports’ core business would be great!

Another issue is the lack of awareness of the need to deal with homophobia and transphobia in sport. We tend to think that because the UK has some of the best LGBT human rights legislation in the world, that the battle is over. I can tell you, in sport it isn’t.

We focus a lot on the headlines ‘when will a top flight footballer come out?’ ‘Homophobia is all about football fans.’ Actually, if you read some of the research, you discover that the majority of LGBT people continue to witness homophobia and transphobia in sporting environments across a range of sports, that lesbian coaches continue to be seen as unsuitable leaders in sport, that many young people continue not to disclose their sexuality to coaches and team mates and that trans people are seen to be ‘cheats’.

There’s a huge amount of education work to be done in sport in the UK. Homophobia and transphobia has scarcely been touched on in many areas of sport in the UK, and advice on making sport more LGBT inclusive is still desperately needed.

Is there a danger that having LGBT-specific sports events and competitions continues the marginalisation of LGBT sports people?

Pride Sports has always taken a two-pronged approach — work to tackle homophobia and transphobia in mainstream sport, and whilst that environment is changing, provide safe spaces for people to participate in sport in their own community.

Why is it seen as such a big deal for LGBT sportspeople competing at the elite level to be open about the sexuality?

There are three key reasons: Because being able to ‘live as you are’ is an indicator of how welcoming a culture is of LGBT people. If sports people aren’t able to be ‘out’ what does that say about our sports culture?

Because we need role models for young LGBT people. How can we expect young people to maintain an interest in sport or progress if they don’t see themselves represented in performance sport, if they don’t see LGBT heroes.

And because there is increasing evidence to suggest that lesbian and gay athletes who are able to be open about their sexuality, perform better.

Take Megan Rapinoe for example, who came out just before she competed at the London Olympics. She says: ‘There are not many athletes who are out. And I think it’s something that’s important. It felt important to me, I guess it seems like a weight off my shoulders, because I’ve been playing a lot better than I’ve ever played before. I think I’m just enjoying myself and I’m happy.’

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