An online study of LGBT athletes by Australian researchers found that more than four-fifths of gay athletes had experienced or witnessed homophobic abuse. Most of the abuse was verbal, but 13% report physical abuse.
The study, sponsored by the Australian Sports Commission, was conducted by Out on the Fields, along with organizers of Bingham Cup Sydney 2014, the world cup of gay rugby, in consultation with the Sydney Convicts Rugby Club and the International Gay Rugby Association and Board. The organizers are also worked with the You Can Play Project and with the Federation of Gay Games. In all, 2,500 people participated in the survey, reported The Age in Australia, split between gay and straight athletes ages 15 and up.
It found homophobic jokes and casual comments such as "that's so gay" were commonplace. One in five gay and lesbian participants had been excluded from social groups because of their sexuality.
Gay men were much more likely to be targeted than women. The study also revealed that one in four straight men had been the target of homophobia.
Here is a breakdown of the types of homophobia experience by LGBT people. Of the survey participants, 62% were men, 36% women and 2% undisclosed:
Verbal insults: 84%
Gay jokes: 73%
Phrases like "that's so gay": 64%
Social exclusion: 28%
Verbal threats: 28%
Physical assaults: 13%
"Until we create a more inclusive sporting environment, people will feel forced to stay in the closet until their careers are over," Jason Ball, an openly gay Australian Rules Football player, told The Age.
The study comes days after two news stories thrust gay sports issues front and center in Australia. First, Olympic swimming star Ian Thorpe came out as gay after a decade of denial. The same weekend, Aussie Rules Football commentator Brian Taylor called player Harry Taylor a "big poofter" live on national TV. Saturday night's pre-game broadcast.
Brian Taylor was reacting to Harry Taylor waving to the crowd after being carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates after playing his 150th game. "I've just seen that crap from Harry. He's a big poofter," said the commentator. "Next thing you'll have your mum and dad out there." Brian Taylor apologized to the player and the public the next day and the TV network that employs him is sending him to diversity training.
The study is a dose of reality amid all the celebrating we do over more and more athletes coming out. I suspect the results in the U.S. would be similar. It shows that while much progress has been made, there is a still a long way to go until gay athletes feel comfortable playing the sport they love openly.