Sexual Minorities and Sport

It’s been a busy news month for issues linking sexuality and education. About a week ago I wrote about the common and trouble-laden practice of schools bringing in outside speakers to relieve teachers of the difficulties of teaching human sexuality. Yesterday I reported on a recent study linking bullying to sexual orientation and gender identity. Often the bullying begins before the child is even aware of his or her own sexual identity.

Today I want to briefly talk about a new report called Out on the Fields: The First International study on Homophobia in Sports. (Oh man, “out on the fields”—what a great title!) If you don’t want to read the whole paper (but you should), you can read a brief report at the CBC or look it up in your favourite news site.

Aside: “homophobia” has become a contested term. As a popular internet meme says, most of the people that we call “homophobes” aren’t afraid of anything; they’re just being a-holes.

The basic issue for me is this: young people do not feel safe. We may have suspected, but now we have solid evidence that young people do not feel safe in a number of public institutions including schools and community sporting leagues. It is no longer acceptable for to bravely say, “I protect all children” and call it the end of the day. You probably do protect all children, but they are not all protected. What we’re doing now isn’t working well enough. And no amount of hand-washing will absolve us from our obligations.

So what can we, as teachers, do today? First, talk about it. Especially with your colleagues. Second, clean up your own act. Innocent-seeming words might not be so innocent. Are you inadvertently part of the problem with your witticisms? Saying, “come on girls” to the boys might get a laugh. But is every laugh a good laugh? What values do you espouse?

Cleaning up your own language, images and actions is important, but it isn’t enough. If your school does not have an anti-bullying program—and there are some very good ones—maybe it’s time you took the initiative to bring it to your administration’s attention. If your students wish to create a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or similar club or initiative, do you have the infrastructure to support it? If not, what will it take.

You know, we’ve come a long way in the past couple of decades, and I find that very encouraging. But we still have miles to go before we sleep. Next time out, I’ll go back to some basic sexuality education, and its opponents. Let’s not allow these issues to be pushed back into the closet.

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