Creating Safe Spaces for Youth Sport Participation
The National Health Corps “Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Healthcare” training provided me with a deeper understanding of the legacy of discriminatory policy as well as current health disparities, better positioning me to take actions for equitable systemic change in addition to supporting organizational progress.
According to a 2021 study by the Trevor Project, only one-third of LGBTQ+ youth participate in sports, as compared to 50% of all youth1. With the current onslaught of legislation banning transgender youth from participating on sports teams that match the gender identity and other anti-trans legislation, it is not surprising that LGBTQ+ youth name discrimination and bullying as the primary barriers to participating in sports1. This is especially devastating when considering the positive effects of sport on youth mental health, another growing crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and one that also disproportionately impacts LGBTQ+ youth2.
Reading through this report was particularly painful for me, as I saw my own negative experiences of homophobic comments in the locker room reflected in pages of statistics. However, I was also incredibly hopeful. As an NHC Chicago member and Outreach Coordinator at Girls in the Game, a sports-based youth development nonprofit in Chicago, I knew our organization was uniquely poised to address this disparity while prioritizing National Health Corps’ focus area of increasing physical activity.
I forwarded the Trevor Project report to our staff and we set up a “Coffee Chat” to discuss how we could leverage our organization’s resources, team, and programming to better support LGBTQ+ youth. I was inspired by the passion of my colleagues and our “chat” turned into an hour-long brainstorming session with several action items, reinforcing the power of discussion and dialogue. In the short-term, we added a pronouns section to our intake form and made sure to ask participants their pronouns at the beginning of programming. Girls in the Game also reviewed an Inclusion Policy with all staff that affirms our commitment to providing equitable programming to all girls and gender expansive youth. There are several coach trainings in the works as the organization continues to reflect on ways to create inclusive sports spaces.
These initiatives at my host site have been complimented by National Health Corps Trainings like “Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Healthcare” led by Elizabeth Sekera, Manager of Population Health at San Francisco Health Plan. This comprehensive training provided me with a deeper understanding of the legacy of discriminatory policy as well as current health disparities, better positioning me to take actions for equitable systemic change in addition to supporting organizational progress. As a coach, I’m excited to continue being a part of conversations and action focused on creating more inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ youth in sports.
1The Trevor Project. (2021) Research Brief: LGBTQ Youth Sports Participation. The Trevor Project. Available at: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/LGBTQ-Youth-and-Sports_-September-Research-Brief-2.pdf. Accessed on December 7, 2021.
2The Trevor Project, (2021) National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2020. The Trevor Project. Available at https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2020/?section=Introduction. Accessed on December 7, 2021.