Review of Sexual Orientation in Sport


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A Review of Sexual Orientation in Sport

sportscotland Research Report no. 114

A research study for:


Sport Northern Ireland

Sport England

UK Sport

Celia Brackenridge, Pam Alldred, Ali Jarvis,

Katie Maddocks and Ian Rivers

Centre for Youth Sport and Athlete Welfare, Brunel University

ISBN: 978 1 85060 549 2

December 2008

Published by


Caledonia House

South Gyle

Edinburgh EH12 9DQ

0131 317 7200


This Research Report was commissioned by sportscotland, Sport Northern Ireland, Sport England and UK Sport to review sexual orientation in sport and other physical activity and draw out policy implications.

For further information, contact the following:



Sport Northern Ireland:

Sport England:

UK Sport:

The summary report, A literature review of sexual orientation in sport: summary by Professor Brackenridge and colleagues, is available with this main report on the following websites:






Key Findings 9

Recommendations for Research and Policy 11

Research 11

Policy 12

Chapter 1 Background 13

1.1 Purpose 13

1.2 Scope 13

1.3 Process 14

1.4 Approach 14

1.5 Methods 21

1.6 Conceptual Framework 22

Chapter 2: Awareness 27

2.1 Introduction 27

2.2Policy and Discourse 28

2.3 Policy Gaps 31

Chapter 3: Knowledge 34

3.1 Introduction 34

3.2 Research Evidence 34

3.3 Knowledge Gaps 43

Chapter 4: Delivery 44

4.1 Introduction 44

4.2 Programmes 44

4.3 Delivery Gaps 46

Chapter 5: Measurement 47

5.1 Introduction 47

5.2 Participation and Impacts 47

5.3 Measurement Gaps 51

Chapter 6: Communication 52

6.1 Introduction 52

6.2 Dominant Discourses 52

6.3 Communication Gaps 53

Chapter 7: Summary 55

7.1 Key Themes 55

7.2 Main Gaps and Recommendations for Research and Policy 57

7.3 Conclusions 58

Appendix 1a: Sampling Frame – Electronic Databases 60

Appendix 1b: Sampling Frame – Policy Analysis 61

UK-based Organisations 61

Overseas or International Organisations 61

Appendix 1c: Sampling Frame – Telephone Interviews 62

Appendix 2: Sample Interview Schedule 64

Appendix 3: Background Note on the Legal Framework 65

Workplace Equality 66

Equal Access to Goods, Facilities and Services (GFS) 66

Appendix 4: Practical Schemes – What Works? 67

Organisations 67

Events and Initiatives 68

Education and Training Resources 69

Appendix 5: A Model Sports Organisation... 72

Appendix 6: Homophobia and Sports Policy Recommendations 73

Safety 73

Fair Treatment/Equal Access 73

Support 74

Education 74

Annex A: Complete Bibliography 75

Note on the Limitations of the Sources 75

Websites 111

Annex B: Themed Bibliography 112

Biography 112

Doctoral and Masters Theses 113

Health 114

Homophobia 115

Identity 118

Media 135

Policy and Management 139

Race 144

Teaching and Coaching 144

Theory 146

Generic Sources 150


Table 1 Some highlights in the history of LGBT activity and scholarship in sport 17

Fig 1 Challenging the status quo: steps to converting awareness into practice in achieving sexual orientation equality in sport 24

Figure 2 Conceptual model of stakeholder responses to equality 25

and sexual orientation 25

Table 2 Summary data for literature search items, by theme 35

Table 3 A research agenda on homophobic bullying 38

Table 4 Coming out in sport: facilitators and inhibitors 39

Table 5 Impacts of a gay-(un)friendly sports organisation 40


BOA British Olympic Association

CAAWS Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity

CoE Council of Europe

COSO Coalition on Sexual Orientation

EGLSF European Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation

EHRC Equality and Human Rights Commission (UK)

EOC Equal Opportunities Commission

FA Football Association (England)

GFSN Gay Football Supporters network (England)

GLAAD Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation

GLAF Gay and Lesbian Athletics Foundation

HB Homophobic bullying

IGLFA International Gay and Lesbian Football Association

IGLYO International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth and Students Organisation

ILGA International Lesbian and Gay Association

IOC International Olympic Committee

LGBT Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people

NCLR National Center for Lesbian Rights (Sports Project) (USA)

NDPB Non-Departmental Public Body

NGB National Governing Body of sport

NGO Non Government Organisation

ONS Office for National Statistics

SGB Scottish Governing Body of sport

SO Sexual orientation

UEFA Union of European Football Associations

WSFF Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation (UK)

WSF (US) Women’s Sports Foundation (USA)

WSI WomenSport International


Grateful thanks to Kay Munro of Glasgow University, Benjamin Smith of the London Borough of Hackney, the project Steering Group and to the following:

Dr Jessica Lindohf, sportscotland

Dr Kristi Long, sportscotland

Sam Dick, Stonewall

Gillian Miller, Stonewall

Chris Lillistone, Women’s Sports Foundation

James Knox, Coalition on Sexual Orientation

Rosie Williams, Women’s Rugby Football Union

Mike Collins, International Gay and Lesbian Football Association

Scottish Government: Sports Division, Health and Well-being Directorate

NI Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM): Equality Unit


The sports councils in the UK have recognised the social and legal imperatives for sports bodies to support participation among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual1 (LGBT) people and to oppose homophobia and related discrimination in sport. This issue has not previously had the priority that has been accorded to other equality strands such as gender, disability or ethnicity, and only in recent years has the process started of giving sexual orientation equal importance to the other equality strands. However, the forthcoming Single Equality Bill (expected to be passed early in 2009) is likely to require all equality strands to be given equal importance.

The process of implementing effective policies to ensure LGBT people are not subject to discrimination and harassment in a sports context has been hampered by two factors: social attitudes and lack of information.

  • Social attitudes have meant that there has been a reluctance even to recognise that sports participation by those whose sexual orientation is anything other than heterosexual can be problematic. Discrimination can run deep: it may be implicit through ‘heteronormative’ attitudes2 as well as explicit through homophobia, and does result in self-censorship by LGBT people.

  • Information gaps are substantial. Whilst non-inclusive attitudes, homophobia and self-censorship are well-documented, they remain anecdotal – we cannot quantify how prevalent they are. We cannot even do the simple analyses – as we can for women, older people, those with a disability or from a minority ethnic background – that would tell us to what extent LGBT people undertake different levels of sports participation3. Such information would underpin the more in-depth understanding that qualitative investigations can provide and also ensure that sexual orientation is given a more prominent place in the sports policy agenda.

In order to improve and develop their policy advice, the sports councils commissioned Professor Brackenridge and colleagues to review what is known about sexual orientation in sport and to draw out implications and practical recommendations. The welcome result is this thorough analysis of a wide range of research and policy documents, presented with a combination of academic rigour and strong advocacy for the issues raised.

The review describes the gaps in our knowledge and identifies further research needs. It also makes policy recommendations, including the following which should be achievable given the information we now have:

  • Practical and policy guidance on assuring inclusive sport for LGBT people, especially for clubs, governing bodies and elite sport organisations. Such guidance is beginning to emerge, for example Transsexual people and sport: guidance for sporting bodies4 (DCMS, 2005), and this review should inform the preparation of more.

  • Development and dissemination of advice and guidance materials and systems for athletes dealing with sexual orientation issues.
  • Case studies to illustrate how processes and practices in different sport contexts can be adjusted to include LGBT athletes and sports personnel. (A list of useful case studies is included in Appendix 4.)

  • Preparation of advice sheets on service and facility provision for trans people5 in different sports.

  • Development of leadership training about sexual orientation equality and impact assessment guidance, delivered to all lead sports body chief executive officers and key public officials working in sport.

We strive for tolerance and adherence to standards by sports bodies and participants. However, as the authors conclude, we also need to go beyond that to achieve genuine inclusiveness for the benefit of sport as a whole.

Our thanks go to Celia Brackenridge, Pam Alldred, Ali Jarvis, Katie Maddocks and Ian Rivers for producing this important review which we hope will improve understanding and influence the development of policy and practice for sexual orientation and sport.

sportscotland Sport Northern Ireland Sport England UK Sport

November 2008


    The purpose of this study was to review and critique the literature on sexual orientation in sport in order to inform equality impact assessments, support the implementation of the sports councils’ equality schemes and inform the advice given by these agencies on developing sports participation among those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual (LGBT) and on tackling homophobia in sport.

    The review focuses mainly on the UK context and English language sources but also draws on materials and policy references from other countries where these are relevant. All levels of the sport performance ladder are addressed, from recreational to elite.

The review involved:

  • literature searches of major electronic databases related to sport and the social sciences (see Appendix 1a);
  • a desk study of available information on sexual orientation in sport, including examination of the policy infrastructure of a small number of international sport and sport advocacy organisations (Appendix 1b); and

  • telephone/email interviews with a small number of stakeholders in voluntary sector sport, non-sport and public sector bodies (Appendix 1c).

Sexual orientation usually refers to the direction of someone’s erotic or sexual desire, and is usually expressed along a continuum from exclusively heterosexual (only being attracted to people of the opposite sex) to exclusively homosexual (only being attracted to people of the same sex). The researchers conducting this review began from the standpoint that sexual orientation (SO) is a dynamic rather than fixed set of statuses, that interpretations of SO depend on learned social roles, and that treatment of SO within sports organisations is politically and historically relative.
To help analysis of the literature and policy search a ‘change model’ was used to illustrate the various stages of action and expertise that influence progress in this area. From the analysis of interview transcripts, policies and research, gaps and priorities for further research were identified.

Key Findings

  • Research focusing on identity and experience research is the dominant theme in the literature, with considerable additional contributions from the literature on women/femininities and men/masculinities.

  • Bisexuality and transsexuality are underrepresented in sports research and policy.

  • Whilst there is a basic awareness among stakeholders that there are issues relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) people that have to do with participation, discrimination and homophobia in sport, there is a lack of expertise (and in some cases desire) to do what is required to address them.

  • Lack of data and evidence means these issues can be ignored or remain hidden.
  • Equality issues around sexual orientation and gender identity are still seen differently from comparable issues on race, gender or disability and the underlying prejudices are different.

  • Much of the prejudice and negativity around LGBT issues in sport can be traced back to the application of gender stereotypes and perceptions of masculinity and femininity.

  • Attitudes within sport both reinforce and are underpinned by wider social attitudes. It would be unfair to judge sports organisations by higher standards than those demonstrated elsewhere.

  • Young people are seen as key to effecting change because they often express more enlightened attitudes to diversity than older generations. Sport can be a powerful influence both on young people’s own personal development and on their attitudes to others, so young people’s openness to diversity is likely to continue even after their personal involvement in sport ceases.

  • There are many different dimensions to sport: team vs individual, elite vs recreational, health and social benefits of participation, sport’s influence on fans and spectators. Each of these brings about different challenges and opportunities for LGBT inclusion and equality.

  • In relation to effective service delivery, there is little evidence of integrated policy or thinking related to sport, health, education and social inclusion. Bringing these elements together more effectively could create a step-change in some of the issues relating to LGBT and equality, and help to add value to governments’ efforts to work in a more joined-up way across health, sport, education and industry.

  • Homophobic discrimination and gender stereotyping are not just damaging to those who may be LGBT but risk affecting performance and participation amongst far wider groups.

  • There is no clear leadership on this issue and even some in government positions appear to be hesitant to take a stand on policy.

Recommendations for Research and Policy


1 Quantitative research to identify patterns of representation.

2 Targeted qualitative research on the experiences of bisexual sports people, coaches and other support roles.

3 Research into the impact of queer/ing6 on individuals and organisations and implications for policy.

4 Inclusion of SO-related items within all standard public survey measures in sport.

5 Embedding of SO as a criterion within all publicly-funded sports research agendas on age, race, disability, religion and class.

6 Qualitative retrospective research to assess the types, extent and impact of homophobia on LGBT athletes and their entourages at the elite/performance level.

    7 Relational studies of the interactions of LGBT and heterosexual sports people, coaches and other support roles.

8 Comparative analyses of LGBT equality in sport and other related areas such as health and education.

9 Replication of studies on SO diversity management in the public sector such as Munro (2006) and Colgan et al (2007).

10 Development of a methodology for conducting a cost-value analysis of SO diversity management in elite sport.

11 Prevalence studies of SO-related violence and harassment for LGBT sports people, coaches and other support roles.

12 Development of case management systems to collect and collate incidence data on these themes.

13 Mixed method policy research to audit whether, how and why providers (especially governing bodies of sport) do or do not address SO and to collect case studies of good practice.

14 Development of research and educational materials to support impact assessments.

1 Provision of lifestyle support expertise for talented and elite athletes, focused on coming out, working with LGBT/heterosexual peers, managing SO in different cultures, dealing with homophobia.

    2 Practical and policy guidance on assuring inclusive sport for LGBT people, especially for clubs, governing bodies and elite sport organisations.

    3 Development and dissemination of advice and guidance materials and systems for sports people dealing with SO issues.

4 Preparation of advice sheets on service and facility provision for transsexual people in different sports similar to that produced by Press for Change7 and DCMS (2005).

5 Case studies to illustrate how processes and practices in different sports contexts can be adjusted to include LGBT sports people, coaches and other support roles.

6 Adaptation of and/or engagement by sports organisations with Stonewall’s Equality Index8 and Diversity Champions Programme9.

7 Development of leadership training about SO equality and impact assessment guidance, delivered to all lead sport body CEOs and key public officials working in sport.


Chapter 1 Background

1.1 Purpose

    This review of sexual orientation (SO) in sport was commissioned by sportscotland, UK Sport, Sport Northern Ireland and Sport England, in order to:

  • inform equality impact assessments;

  • support the further development and implementation of the sports councils’ equality schemes; and

  • inform the advice given by these agencies on developing sports participation among those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual (LGBT) and on tackling homophobia in sport.

    The review is intended to:

  • investigate issues relating to SO and sports participation (from grass-roots to elite levels) and non-participation, including homophobia;

  • identify barriers and evidence of overcoming barriers;

  • present such data as might exist on LGBT rates of participation;

  • describe policies and case studies including good (and bad) practice relating to SO, participation and homophobia;

  • report on the evaluation of related programmes and policies concerning SO in sport;

  • identify potential questions for further research; and

  • inform policy aimed, in particular, at increasing participation among LGBT people, reducing homophobia in sport and complying with relevant legal and human rights imperatives.

1.2 Scope

    This review is based on English language studies only. It focuses mainly on the UK context but also draws on some materials and policy references from other countries where these are relevant. All levels of the sport performance ladder are addressed, from recreational to elite.

1.3 Process

The research comprised the following stages:

  • A desk study of databases and grey literature (such as reports and short-life documents), focusing mainly on the UK but also addressing appropriate international comparisons where these were available, concentrating especially on aspects of SO and homophobia in sport and related physical activity (the search strategy is outlined in Appendix 1a).

  • A comparative study of associated research and policy literature (Appendices 1a and 1b indicate the sampling frames for these).

  • Consultations with expert informants (Appendix 1c).

  • Close liaison throughout the review with the Project Steering Group and its lead officer.

1.4 Approach

1.4.1 Definitions

Contrary to widespread public assumption, sexual orientation (SO) is not necessarily determined by genetics nor is it aligned neatly with biological categories (male/female) (Hood-Williams, 1995). Indeed, genetic sex itself cannot be demarcated in this way since ‘sexual ambiguity’ (Lungqvist and Genel, 2005, pS42) arises from a variety of genotypes. SO generally refers to the direction of someone’s erotic or sexual desire, and is usually expressed along a continuum from exclusively heterosexual (only being attracted to people of the opposite sex) to exclusively homosexual (only being attracted to people of the same sex). There are many divisions of lesbianism (women-identified women), some linked to political differences and some to sexual differences; similarly, gay men do not all share the same political or sexual perspective. Bisexual people are neither exclusively gay/lesbian nor straight (heterosexual). ‘Trans people’ is a term that describes a complex range of overlapping individuals circumstances. Broadly – and necessarily simplistically – trans people include transgendered people and transsexuals: transsexualism is medically determined; transgender is a matter of identity and thus part of the ‘queering’ process. ‘Queer’ is a term applied to those for whom the very notion of a defined sexual identity is restrictive and who therefore perform or ‘do’ sexuality in a variety of ways designed to test the boundaries of the ‘normal’ in society. According to Jayne Caudwell, arguably the leading British researcher of queer/ing in sport, ‘queer’ describes “activism, theory, politics, identity and community” in ways that undermine compulsory and dominant sex/gender relations (Caudwell, 2006, p. 2).

1.4.2 Social Change and the Heterosexual Imperative

The historical emergence of ‘the heterosexual’ (Ward, 2008) coincided with the foundations of modern sport as a social institution in the late nineteenth century. Both constituted responses of white middle-class masculinity to modernisation, urbanisation and increased prominence of women and black and immigrant men in the labour market. Sport still appears to be inescapably constituted as a sex-segregated social institution: indeed, Kolnes argues that sport is not only based on gender divisions but also that heterosexuality is an ‘organising principle’ (Kolnes, 1995), yet in other cultural spheres such as music, theatre or literature this is not the case. The reasons for this are biological/physical, socio-historical and political.

The separation of sports into male and female on biological grounds is reinforced by powerful ideological and political mechanisms that also strengthen heterosexual norms. What might seem ‘natural’ (ie, based on bio-genetic sex differences) is actually ‘social’ (ie, based on culturally constructed gender differences). Woven into these gender divisions is the heterosexual imperative that privileges particular expressions of masculinity above others and above all types of femininity. Sex segregation is embedded in the organisational systems of sport and in the ideological and cultural domination enjoyed by a particular kind of heterosexual masculinity. Whannel (2007, p7) after Connell (1995, p71) points out that it is not possible to discuss masculinity except in relation to femininity since both are relational concepts. Similarly here, it is not possible to consider LGBT people in sport without interrogating the heteronormative – and associated homonegative – gender order of sport (Krane, 1997b).

Many eminent feminists and pro-feminists have argued persuasively in recent years that sport is a prime site for the (re)production of a particular kind of hegemonic (all-pervasive or dominant) heterosexual masculinity (Lenskyj 1992b; Hall 1996; Messner 1992, 1996; Messner and Sabo 1994). Some even describe it as hyper-masculine or hyper-heterosexual (Kirby et al, 2000) by which exaggerated or ‘macho’ representations of masculinity are pursued and valued above all others. Messner (1996, p223) argued that the social construction of sexual identities is a process which contributes to a matrix of domination that also includes race, class and gender. In other words, heterosexual privilege and power is linked to the other major social hierarchies in society. This analysis is reflected in the six equality strands now addressed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – gender, race, disability, age, religion and sexual orientation. According to Aitchison (2007, p1), however, it is gender and sexuality that are most closely intertwined in the construction of individual identities, identity politics and identity relations.

Early feminist theories focused on lack of women’s rights (to, for example, the vote, access to university education, and abortion) in ways that reinforced the male/female (sex), masculine/feminine (gender) divisions in society. More recently, however, social theories have challenged previous thinking and have opened up the possibility that, rather than being fixed or stable categories or identities, gender and SO are in fact fluid, changeable and multiple (hence masculinities, femininities and sexualities). In so doing, such theorists have presented a major challenge to social and gender policies and practices. Nowhere are such challenges as starkly evident as they are in sport, which is historically laden with fixed gender expectations and which is deeply segregated on grounds of sex (see section 3.2.9). In most but not quite all sports, men and women compete separately even if they are regulated by single-sex organisations. Even though age, race, ability, religious and geographic divisions are commonplace in sport competitions, it is by gender that we most frequently divide.

One of the prompts for this review was the recognition by the commissioning agencies that policy and practice in sport lags behind both modern theorising about sexual identity and, perhaps more importantly, behind legal statutes and everyday practices. Many (especially young) people – urged by politicians and advocacy groups to take part in sport and other physical activity – find themselves alienated by sports organisations whose origins lie in nineteenth-century stereotypes, outdated social norms and expectations to conform. For them, the discomfort of ‘fitting in’ may simply not be worth it when set against other, more welcoming leisure or career choices.

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