By Jon Holmes, Sports Media LGBT+
When Gus Kenworthy switched to GB Snowsport last December, he spoke of the importance of both LGBT+ representation among athletes and visible support for inclusion from sports organisations, telling Sky Sports they are “cracks in the dam until the water breaks through”.
We’ll only be able to say that the dam has burst when everyone involved in sport feels free to be their authentic selves. “It’s very liberating and usually you perform better,” added Kenworthy. For a governing body wanting to get the very best out of all its people and boost participation too, the value of that message could hardly be clearer.
Having high-profile, out athletes like Kenworthy share their truth is encouraging for the governing bodies of the sports in which they compete, but the cracks they make ice over quickly if no further action is taken on inclusion. Understanding how unconscious anti-LGBT+ bias and casual homophobia, biphobia and transphobia might affect a young person who is questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity is essential for everyone within a sporting culture. Whether coach, team-mate, parent or media officer, each has the capacity to listen, learn and play their part in creating a truly welcoming environment.
Sports Media LGBT+ is a network and advocacy group that is advising organisations on how to communicate with confidence. By providing examples of good practice, sharing empowering stories, and offering connections, we are helping to build a community of LGBT+ people and allies in sport. Our core members are industry professionals who recognise the media’s responsibility to shine a light on the issues affecting sport and help to tackle them.
So far in 2020, we’ve worked with British Athletics on raising awareness around their new Athletics Pride Network; published a media resources pack called ‘Rainbow Ready’, backed by three of the UK’s leading LGBT+ inclusion in sports organisations; and delivered a special webinar on comms for Pride Month in association with the Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA), the umbrella group for over 300 NGBs in the UK. In October, we staged our second annual ‘Authentic Me’ event with a range of guest speakers. These events bring together LGBT+ people from grassroots and elite sport, supported by influential active allies who then take away the message of how authenticity boosts performance and share it with other senior leaders.
Last month, five US snowboarders – Tanner Pendleton, Kennedi Deck, Chad Unger, Jill Perkins, and Jake Kuzyk – all came out publicly as gay in Torment Magazine to mark Pride. Each of their journeys has been different, but there are themes, such as feeling at times that they were in some way defective because there was nothing or no one to suggest otherwise. They also spoke of how snowboarding was a vital escape from anxiety, angst and the attitudes of others – a space in which they could feel free, well before finding the self-acceptance that every lesbian, gay, bi and trans person needs in order to thrive. Around the world, there are millions of people who never get to experience that moment.
Representation and visibility – how else can you make cracks in the dam? I’ll let Pendleton have the final word…
“The snowboarding community as a whole should really take a step back and ask themselves, ‘What is it about our community that’s keeping people from being themselves? Are we really encouraging and uplifting people’s differences?’ This extends beyond LGBTQ+ people and should also include women, people of colour, or any marginalised group.”
When we not only acknowledge diversity but also celebrate it, we create cultures in which every part of our identities can breathe. Lend your support to breaking down the barriers that inhibit LGBT+ people, and watch them burst with pride.