Homophobia continues to be stumbling block for queers in sports

By Sports Desk October 01, 2020

 Human rights advocates from J-Flag, Anika Walsh and EJ recently came together to discuss and illuminate possible barriers that hinder adequate queer representation in sports.

From the outset, Anika and EJ admitted that sports and queer individuals are hardly ever bedfellows because of several factors, the most prominent among them homophobia.

“When I say homophobia I don’t just mean hatred. Homophobia means you automatically tell yourself that they identify as x and that means they ‘cannot’. It’s not that you’re actively hating anybody, but you already have this idea in your mind that they will not be able to do it like x person,” was how EJ chose to frame the issue.

It is a problematic way of thinking as, according to EJ, it means queers are ruled out and deemed incapable based on implicit bias.

Another factor he noted was the concept of excessive safety measures for queer people, which also manifests as another form of homophobia.

“I think sometimes people are excessive with this ‘oh we’re trying to keep you safe’ and they don’t allow you to say I’m willing to take x amount of risks, and so it becomes homophobia in the way that they’re limiting your ability to be yourself,” he explained.

Queer is an umbrella term used to describe sexual orientation that is not exclusively heterosexual.  Typically, for those who identify as queer, the term lesbian, gay and bisexual are perceived to be too limiting.

Anika believes another barrier for queer people in sports is the reluctance to create safe spaces for sporting professionals to ‘come out’ if they need to.

EJ agreed, adding that even in sports that are at times stereotypically associated with the LGBT community, like figure skating or synchronised swimming, there is an unwillingness to identify as queer even if people already suspect you are.

Though insisting there is nothing wrong with the approach, EJ believes it can become problematic when a coach knows an athlete’s true inclination, but it has to be hidden from the public because of potential heckling from spectators.  Coming out should be a freeing experience that shouldn’t require settling or hiding away in fear.

 During the online conversation titled ‘Lunchtime Convo Series’, the team concluded that events geared towards nurturing, developing, and highlighting queer athletes are embarrassingly scanty.

J-Flag’s annual Pride celebrations showcase the sporting talents of the community. Still, Anika and EJ want other spaces outside of J-Flag’s Pride event to showcase and celebrate queer athletes.

 For Anika, showcasing queer athletes on other platforms will benefit a younger generation. “Pride gives hope to a younger generation. To actually have someone from the NBA that gets up and says I’m openly queer or I’m queer and this is me coming out and this is my journey,” she said.

“It creates a space for younger professionals to venture in sports. For a lot of young people, they need someone to look up to and for most of them they’ll ever only see persons who are straight and that can be very discouraging for them because you want to actually find somebody who can relate to the different challenges they’re facing.”

 EJ agreed and pointed out that the J-Flag sports day is significant because “you have so many people who are athletes in all different areas. You have some people that were good at cricket in high school and they decide ‘ok I’m too out’ so let me not continue with this. So, having Pride even if they can’t compete professionally is very important.”

 Still, EJ understands that undertones of self-consciousness and insecurity also lead to many queer people shying away from pursuing sports in places outside of Pride.

“They don’t feel like their body movements are what they should be [and] it leads to them shying away from different sporting activities even if they are actually good [because] it won’t be the skill that comes under scrutiny, it will be the execution,” he explained.

 All in all, both advocates agree that J-Flags Pride can’t be the only place LGBT people feel comfortable in a sporting space.

In the meantime, EJ advises aspiring queer people in Jamaica who want to pursue a career in the sports industry to not “let anyone stop you. If you want to do it, do it. Don’t say, ‘they aren’t going to accept me, so I won’t do it’. Make sure you try.”

 

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