LGBT athletes face many obstacles

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LGBT athletes face many obstacles

Sophie Alegi, Editor in Chief

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LGBT rights campaigns in the United States have won significant victories in the past three years, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the legalization of same sex marriage. Unfortunately, social acceptance of LGBT people continues to move at a snail’s pace in several sectors: sports being one of the most obvious examples.

Sports culture has a long history of hostility and discrimination directed towards queer people. Few prominent professional athletes have come out as gay, and often faced exclusion from their sport or team if they did. Despite advances in LGBT rights, openly gay athletes are practically invisible in professional sports. So, this leads to the question, why don’t more athletes come out as gay?

Sports culture is heteronormative, meaning there is a cultural understanding in which heterosexuality is the norm and the resulting social institutions are based on the assumption that all people are heterosexual. Heteronormativity in sports is most likely due to cultural concepts of masculinity associated with sports and stereotyping of queer people.

Traditionally sports have been a “man’s” activity, tied up with the concepts of strength, toughness, aggressiveness, and assertiveness. These qualities make up a masculine norm.  Gay men, however, are commonly stereotyped as “weak” or “feminine.”

“Gay athletes are stereotyped as not as fit, not as athletic as their straight counterparts, which isn’t necessarily true,” Matthew Langley (11) said. Langley is a top diver on the Okemos Swim and Dive team and has been diving since his freshman year.

“Just cause you’re gay doesn’t mean you’re a bad athlete. Most of the people I’ve beaten are straight divers,” Langley said.  

Female athletes, on the other hand, are at risk to being seen as masculine if they are too aggressive, assertive, or strong. Attractiveness and femininity are the behaviors and qualities expected of women. Along with these feminine qualities, female athletes are also expected to be  strong, fit and skilled at their sport. Some teammates, fearful of being accused of being lesbian themselves, and obsessed with the erroneous idea that every lesbian likes them, will isolate or alienate lesbian teammates.  

The idea of a predatory gay person is often one of the worst stereotypes to endure for LGBT athletes. Unfortunately, this stereotype is one of the most common and isolating homophobic beliefs held by straight people.

“I had a problem last year with one of my teammates. She kept insinuating that I was hitting on every girl on the team. [It] made me very uncomfortable,” Meg Doster (12) is openly gay and a member of the Okemos tennis team.

“Whenever someone comes out as gay, every straight person thinks they like them or they want to be with them,” an anonymous athlete said. “My team doesn’t know that I’m gay because I feel like the way they treat me will change.”

Straight athletes often may claim that it is “distracting” or “obscene” to have a gay athlete on their team or in their locker room because they believe the gay athlete “likes” them or is checking them out.  More than one LGBT athlete interviewed for this article raised this concern.

“Sometimes I feel a little uncomfortable in locker rooms,” Doster said.  “I have this fear that if I look at anyone at any point, they’re going to think I’m checking them out. So I always face the corner and just stand there.”

Locker rooms and the types of language used in them are a huge part of homophobic sports  culture.

“People use words like gay and faggot in the locker room and that’s a problem,” Langley said. “I’ve faced being called gay in the locker room and that deters gay athletes from coming out.”

“Being in the closet and on a sports team sucks,” one anonymous athlete said. “Your teammates will say derogatory terms such as, faggot, fag, and dyke.” For this athlete, the only way for things to improve is for people to stop being homophobic.

“Coaches should talk to athletes about how not to be homophobic,” Langley said. “And coaches should be better at learning about gay athletes and homophobic athletes [on their teams].”

Teams depend on unity and trust to accomplish goals. How can a team be unified if members of it are completely isolated from one another? How can a team have trust when so much hate is directed to some team members? How can a team accomplish anything, let alone win, when they are so disunified and preoccupied with internal issues? Here’s a hint. They can’t. Do you think a great team would allow anything to get in their way?  Oh, and grow up. It’s 2017. Some people are gay, get used to it.