Why Aren’t LGBTQ Teens Playing School Sports? This Study Paints a Picture

High school athletics are practically a right of passage for most teenagers, but there’s a certain demographic that’s getting left out of this activity: LGBTQ kids.

New research from the Human Rights Council shows not only the disparity in playing sports between straight and gay high school kids, but also some of the biggest reasons for that gap. The major takeaway is that while 68 percent of cisgender/heterosexual teenagers compete in high school sports, the same is true of only 24 percent of LGBTQ students.

That number drops even lower (20 percent) in states that don’t have any policies on the books to protect the rights of LGBTQ teens in sports – or have regressive rules pertaining to trans and gender identity.

The reasons for the lack of participation aren’t too hard to guess: LGBTQ teens simply don’t see themselves being accepted. They worry that their teammates and coaches will tease them, threaten them in a locker room setting or critique them for not being “masculine” enough. Of the kids that do play, about 80 percent are not out to their coaches, primarily for that reason.

Public opinion validates the teens’ feelings. 78 percent of sports fans and athletes acknowledged that youth sports aren’t a safe space for LGBTQ students, and 84 percent say they’ve seen anti-LGBTQ sentiments expressed in athletic settings. That doesn’t exactly make for a warm welcome.

Understandably, sports are most off-putting for trans and non-gender conforming youth. With most sports teams segregated by sex, students who don’t look like their teammates are commonly ostracized, and, in some states, are even forbidden from participating.

The HRC research fills an important hole in our understanding of LGBTQ sports. Although there have been a good amount of work examining queer participation in professional and collegiate sports, the data at the high school level is lacking. By seeing how many LGBTQ people abstain from sports as teenagers, it better illustrates why there aren’t a lot of (out, anyway) gay role models in professional sports – they avoid school athletics before they can develop the necessary skills.

The interesting thing is that the LGBTQ students who do participate in sports are happier and healthier than those who do not. Though still at the high rates you’d hope, student athletes are significantly more likely to have positive self-esteem, feel safe in at school and say they are less depressed than their queer counterparts who skip out on sports. It’s a remarkable correlation, but the study cannot say whether sports help these students to adjust or the better-adjusted students feel more comfortable joining sports.

The HRC further explains that school sports help to promote “equality, fairness, perseverance, discipline and integrity” – not the kind of traits we want to exclude LGBQ students from. Arguably, all kids can learn these traits better from having a diverse set of teammates including, so it should be a priority for schools to find ways to be more inviting and inclusive to these marginalized teens.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

39 comments

Paulo R
Paulo R3 months ago

ty

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Dave fleming
Dave fleming4 months ago

Thanks for posting

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R4 months ago

Thank you for posting.

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Thomas M
Thomas M4 months ago

thanks

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Karen M
Karen Martinez4 months ago

Interesting. My husband is a high school cross country and track coach. He had a student who graduated 4 years ago who has since transitioned. We went out for dinner with her a couple weeks ago. In deference to my husband, she toned down the make-up, wore jeans instead of a dress, and behaved the same as always around us (I had the person in class in Jr. High, and said person was a good friend of our daughter). We had a wonderful time, and no-one cared that this person no longer conformed to the gender assigned at birth. We were out with a wonderful young adult whom we have known and loved since the age of 11, and a great time was had by all. My husband and I have tried to teach our personal children and our students that you need to look at the personality of a person first. If the person is a good, caring, loving person, then be friends with her/him. If the person is a jerk, then stay away. All the other stuff--skin color, orientation, capabilities, are secondary and don't matter. Unfortunately, too many people teach their children to look at the other stuff first.

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Janis K
Janis K4 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Cindy S
Cindy Smith4 months ago

thanks

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R4 months ago

Thanks for posting.

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Dr. Jan H
Dr. Jan Hill4 months ago

Thanks for the info.

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Christina S
Past Member 4 months ago

Oh hi again Amanda. Amusing, you are, as usual. Gender is fixed. According to the DSM-V, Gender Dysphoria, or less offensive to the delusional such as yourself, gender identity disorder falls under code 302.6 for children and 302.85 for teens and adults. It IS a psychiatric issue. Geez, guess the Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the doctors have wrong?! Dream dream dream. Thanks for the chuckle woman. Nighty night.

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