Scott Greenspan and his team of American researchers systematically reviewed and synthesized of all research they could find on the experiences of gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth and gender diverse youth in sport settings. Systematic reviews aim to find as much research as possible on a specific topic or questions (e.g., what are the health impacts to gay kids from homophobic behavior in sport) and this research is then reviewed to look for common findings.

The researchers found evidence of a wide-range of harms to young people, particularly gay and bisexual males from homophobic behaviors, exclusion, and discrimination in sport.

“There is ample data to suggest that the prejudicial nature of sport spaces can serve as a deterrent for athletic participation for gay males in particular, as this population appears to be targeted harshly”

These conclusions are just the latest example of research and evidence since the 1970s that has found homophobic behaviors are common in sport (see the timeline). Just a few years ago, the UK Parliament conducted an inquiry into homophobia in sport, with MPs from all parties expressing “serious concerns over the effects of low participation among LGB youth on their mental and physical health and well-being.”

Public health and United Nations agencies have identified an urgent need for effective solutions to stop the discrimination experienced by LGBTQ young people. Being the victim or being exposed to homophobic behavior is a key driver of the high rates of suicide and self-harm in this population.

Sources: sport participation (Doull et al., 2018), suicide (CDC, 2020).

However, girls and women (regardless of sexuality) are often assumed to be lesbians if they play traditionally male sports, and thus avoid these sports because the worry about experiencing stigma. Youth from ethnic communities with rigid gender norms (social rules) around appropriate behavior for females are most affected.