​Timeline of Responses to Homophobia and Transphobia in sport

Out on the Fields Timeline

Responses from Sport Organizations

 

Progress over the last five years, since Out on the Fields was released, was assessed by a series of peer-reviewed papers we published, including one in the top ranked sport industry science journal. 

 

Our research, and that of others, has collectively arrived at the same or similar conclusion: the need to address the discrimination experienced by LGBTQ people is largely ignored by sport leaders.

Although there are some sport organizations that seem to be genuinely interested in solving this problem, most want to ‘tick the box’ and focus on other things.

 

This timeline was created to support the work of journalists, politicians, human rights advocates and lawyers, corporate sponsors, government officials, LGBTQ leaders, and sport managers. It illustrates why a dozen seperate studies (six peer-reviewed) and a UK Parliamentary Inquiry have said we need to find ways to drive meaningful action in sport.

 

CREDITS: Erik Denison (author); Alistair Kitchen (editor); Sumit Brands (designer)
Contributors and sources: Ruth Jeanes, Nadia Bevan, David Kopay; Pat Griffin, Cyd Ziegler, ESPN
Funding for reviews: Australian Government, Monash University, You Can Play

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1977

FIRST: Study of the population size of gay and bisexual athletes

FIRST: Study of the population size of gay and bisexual athletes

Sport leaders and the public strongly denied Kopay’s claims of other gay NFL players. Garner and Smith surveyed American college football players to test his claims.   

Key finding: The researchers described a “startling” response to their anonymous surveys about “male sexual behavior.” They originally planned to conduct surveys at one college to test Kopay’s claims. They expanded to other schools to confirm their findings (remember: this was at a time when homosexuality was illegal). Of the 82 American college football players at three schools who completed the surveys 36% reported having had sex with another man at least once in the last two years. Current research (2019) by the CDC reports 15% of high-school aged young people are not heterosexual. 

Full study: Scientific Journal Website

1977

FIRST: Court ruling that trans women cannot be excluded from female sport

Transgender athlete Renee Richards took US Tennis to court after she was banned from competing as a woman in the US Open. Sport leaders strongly fought the case up to the NY Supreme Court.

About: In 1977 (a highly conservative era) the NY Supreme Court considered detailed evidence about both potential advantage, and also harm from exclusion. It ruled sport organizations cannot discriminate against trans women. This issue is not new to the courts or the media, as the video above illustrates.

Important: The issue of transgender inclusion in sport is not new and historical context needs to be provided. It has been going in circles for nearly a half a century. There has been little research conducted to try to resolve these issue and no research has generated evidence that might have changed the NY Supreme Court’s 1977 decision. Despite this, trans women and young people, a highly marginalized group at very high risk of suicide, which could greatly benefit from playing sports, constantly and repeatedly have to fight the exact same fight, against the same arguments considered in 1977, for their right to play sport.

1981

FIRST: Openly gay female professional athletes

FIRST: Openly gay female professional athletes

Tennis stars Billie Jean King was outed and Martina Navratilova came out.

About: The events are a catalyst for extensive media, academic, and sport industry documentation and discussion of the stigma and discrimination that lesbians experience in sport, and why it is harmful to all women. Billie Jean also published a book that discussed the relationship between homophobia and sexism.

1982

FIRST: Gay Games faces wrath of Olympic organizers

FIRST: Gay Games faces wrath of Olympic organizers

Olympian Tom Waddell and others organized the first Gay Games to create a safe space where LGBT athletes can compete.

About: Their plans, and a court case by Olympic officials, generated extensive media coverage and public discussion about why gay people need “special” treatment and their own international tournament. Organizers decided to drop “Olympic” due to threats of court action and public backlash.

Despite the negative press: the Games have consistently been used as a vehicle to raise awareness of homophobia in sport, and also conduct research with LGBT athletes. This includes the Out on the Fields study.

More info: Research by Australian academic Caroline Symons investigated the benefits of the Gay Games

1990

FIRST: For many things in male sport

FIRST: For many things in male sport

Thousands of news stories, academic articles, government reports, and feature movies have provided a detailed account of Justin Fashanu’s courageous decision to come out while still playing professional soccer.  

What: Fashanu was one of the best soccer players in the world and remains one of the only athletes to come out while still playing his sport. He was also the first openly gay black athlete. Justin’s decision helped elevate homophobia in sport, and the harm to gay athletes, into mainstream public consciousness in soccer-mad Europe.  30 years later people still talk about him and he remains the only active top tier pro football player to come out.

1995

FIRST: Australian male athlete and Rugby League player

Ian Roberts was the second male athlete in the world to come out while still actively playing. 

About: Roberts decision generated extensive media and public commentary in Australia and throughout the Commonwealth. Like Kopay before him, Roberts has a reputation as one of the toughest and most aggressive players in his sport. Roberts helped to shift negative stereotypes and perceptions about gay men in Australia and received strong support from high profile figures in his sport.

Empty promises from sport leaders is how Roberts describes the numerous unfulfilled pledges to address homophobia in sport. Academics have used identical words. The lack of progress, and the suicide of an Australian gay boy who was bullied, recently spurred Roberts to begin speaking out more often about the need to identify ways to generate action and actual change.

1998

FIRST: Canadian male Olympian

Mark Tesksbury became one of only two elite Canadian male athletes to come out. He often talks about the mystery of the missing Canadian athletes. 

Key findings: Numerous academic articles and media stories in Canada have highlighted the disconnect between Canada’s reputation as a friendly and inclusive country, yet there is a near total absence of any openly gay or bisexual males in its professional sports, particularly in ice hockey. The NHL is the only professional league without any gay or bisexual male players, and Canada is the only other western country to never have had a gay or bisexual male come out in professional sports. The other country is New Zealand.

1998

Justin Fashanu found dead from suicide

Justin Fashanu’s death is used in the UK as a cautionary tale about the dangers of coming out in sport and the need to protect athletes from discrimination.  

About: Fashanu took his life after he was accused of having sex with a minor (17 years old). He would have to face a judge in a homophobic, racist, and conservative part of the United States. Fashanu was recently inducted into Britain’s National Football Hall of Fame on the 30th anniversary of him coming out. He is recognized for his bravery and the many sacrifices he made to raise awareness of the need for change.

2003

FIRST: Statistics on LGB youth harassment in school sport settings

FIRST: Statistics on LGB youth harassment in school sport settings

Diane Elze conducted the first quantitative research with American LGB youth. Previous studies used qualitative methods, with small samples, due to recruitment challenges. 

Key finding: 60% of young people reported some form of sexuality-based victimization in school. Sport settings were identified as a prime setting for victimization to occur. Half of participants (49%) reported sexuality-based harassment in school locker rooms. More recent research has found an even higher proportion of students report this behavior in school sports settings.

2005

FIRST: pro league to ban homophobic discrimination

FIRST: pro league to ban homophobic discrimination

The National Hockey League was the first professional sport league to include a ban on discriminatory behaviors based on sexuality in its player contracts.

Progress 2005 – 2021: Homophobic language is rare amongst NHL players, but very common in lower-tier pro leagues and in amateur ice hockey globally
Is this assessment scientifically peer-reviewed? Yes (learn more)

2007

FIRST: NCAA leader pledge to address homophobia

FIRST: NCAA leader pledge to address homophobia

NCAA Exec Director Myles Brand becomes the first American sport leader to publicly pledge to address homophobia and stop the exclusion of people due to their sexuality.

Brand has been praised for his genuine desire promote inclusion, though his comments also helped to mitigate legal risk. At the time, NCAA schools  were fighting multiple court cases by lesbian coaches for wrongful dismissal.

Progress 2007 – 2021? Limited. The NCAA’s trans inclusion policy has been praised, however, lesbian coaches continue to experience discrimination and stigma, homophobic language remains common, and there is no dedicated funding pools or focus on LGBTQ issues across all divisions.
Is this assessment scientifically peer-reviewed? Yes, multiple studies (learn more)

2008

FIRST: Comprehensive & international investigation into research and action on homophobia in sport

FIRST: Comprehensive & international investigation into research and action on homophobia in sport

UK Government sport agencies commissioned legendary child safety expert Celia Brackenridge to lead an international review and investigation into why homophobia remains problematic. Her team systematically searched for research, conducted interviews with a range of stakeholders, and examined the international responses of sport organizations and governments. 

Key findings

  • The researchers found and reviewed 600+ pieces of research and conducted interviews/surveys;
  • Homophobic attitudes and behaviors are harmful to the mental and physical health of LGBT people, but also impact everyone;
  • There is a lack of leadership and interest by sport leaders and government policy makers to fix problem;
  • Discrimination against LGBTQ people is ignored because sport leaders claim they lack evidence of a problem or uncertainty about solutions  

Progress 2008 – 2021: Most (60-70%) of the recommendations have not been implemented, and have been made repeatedly by others since.

2009

MANY: discrimination lawsuits filed against universities

MANY: discrimination lawsuits filed against universities

Lesbian basketball coach Lorri Sulpizio is one of many coaches and athletes who have filed discrimination claims against NCAA and other schools.

The coaches that have filed the claims had been awarded millions by 2009, and there have been many more large awards in the years since, though these types of cases are now rare. Typically female coaches are simply no longer hired.

2011

FIRST: UK Sport joint commitment to “rid their sports of homophobia and transphobia”

FIRST: UK Sport joint commitment to “rid their sports of homophobia and transphobia”

Under pressure from the UK Government’s Home Office, the leaders of the English Football Association, Rugby Football Union, Rugby Football League,  England/Wales Cricket, and British Tennis signed a joint “charter” and committed to rid their sports of homophobia and transphobia.

Progress 2011 – 2021? A UK Parliamentary Inquiry in 2017, and peer-reviewed research in 2020, found little evidence of change or progress.
Is this assessment scientifically peer-reviewed? Yes (learn more)

2011

FIRST: Major fine for homophobic slur and TV campaign run by the NBA

The National Basketball Association fined Kobe Bryant $100K for using a homophobic slur during a game.

The League’s Commissioner also said homophobic language ‘is not tolerated’ and supported TV ads on harm from using casual (‘that’s gay’) homophobic language in sport.

Progress 2011 – 2021: Kobe Bryant became a strong LGBTQ advocate until his death, and there have only been a few similar incidents since at the professional level, but a 2017 UK Parliamentary Inquiry heard it is still common in the game basketball.

2011

San Fran Giants record “It Gets Better” video

San Fran Giants pitcher Barry Zito and other players record an It Gets Better video for LGBT kids after fans created a petition asking them to send encouragement to young people experiencing discrimination. Numerous media outlets run stories about the lack of openly gay players.

2012

America’s Big Four add sexuality to anti-discrimination policies

America’s Big Four add sexuality to anti-discrimination policies

MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL include sexuality in their collective agreements with players, which protects them from discrimination in states without this protection, but also requires players to act in non-discriminatory ways.

2012

NCAA releases 92 page manual on LGBTQ inclusion

NCAA releases 92 page manual on LGBTQ inclusion

NCAA releases detailed 92 page Champions of Inclusion manual to its member schools which outlines their legal obligation to proactively stop homophobic behavior and discrimination experienced by LGBTQ. The manual also contains recommendations on how to promote inclusive LGBTQ sport climates

2012

THIRD: English FA commitment to eliminate homophobia

THIRD: English FA commitment to eliminate homophobia

The FA, in partnership with all major football bodies (Premier League, EFL, and unions) release “Opening Doors and Joining In”

The football bodies again committed to eliminate homophobia and created “a detailed 21 page ‘action plan 2012-16’ to tackle homophobia.”

Progress  to 2021? Not implemented. Peer-reviewed analyses found many claims made in a 2013 progress report were unsupported by evidence. See later dates for further detail.
Is this assessment scientifically peer-reviewed? Yes

2013

FIRST: Canadian national governing body pledges to fight homophobia/transphobia

FIRST: Canadian national governing body pledges to fight homophobia/transphobia

Volleyball Canada released LGBTQ inclusion guidelines which included a commitment to fight homophobia and transphobia, a few months before Chris Voth, one of the national team members, came out. 

Surprising: Although Canada has a reputation as a welcoming and inclusive country, Volleyball was and remains the only national governing body to publicly commit to acting on homophobia. In similar countries, such as the UK, Australia, and NZ, most major governing bodies have at least publicly committed to address the unique discrimination and abuse that LGBTQ people experience in sport, though meaningful action has been limited.

2013

FIRST: Major court ruling on homophobia and obligations of sport organizations

FIRST: Major court ruling on homophobia and obligations of sport organizations

The EU’s Court of Justice rules that the burden of proof falls onto sport clubs to prove they have taken action on homophobia.

About: If a sport team receives a complaint about homophobic, the team must be able to demonstrate it has taken action on this form of discrimination. Sport lawyers sound alarm due to the potential far-reaching consequences. It is unclear if this court ruling, and the lawyer warnings, played a role in sport leaders globally beginning to make public commitments to eliminate homophobia, particularly within the Euro-centric sport of rugby union.

2013

FIRST: American Attorney General threatens NFL with investigation

FIRST: American Attorney General threatens NFL with investigation

New York’s Attorney General sent a letter to the National Football League asking for information and threatening an investigation into homophobic behavior and treatment of gay athletes.  after he received complaints from player prospects that recruiters were asking questions about sexuality.

About: The Attorney General had received complains from player prospects that recruiters were asking them question about their sexuality. The NFL agreed to change its hiring policies, provide training to staff and owners (unclear if this was a one-off event), and ‘engage’ with the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ leaders responded by calling for the NFL’s Commissioner to make public commitments to end homophobia and proactively support closeted gay players.

Progress 2013 – 2020: The NFL changed its policies and provided education to owners and staff in 2013. Legendary NFL player David Kopay, the first athlete to come out in the world as gay, said the League did little more until 2020. Driven by an LGBT employee group formed in 2017. the NFL announced a broad range of activities in 2020, including proactive support of closeted gay players. Unfortunately, many of the activities it has announced have proven to be ineffective, or may make problems worse (e.g. diversity training). or research is needed to determine if there are any benefits (e.g. Ally program).

2013

FIRST: Major American sport league forms partnership with LGBT sport advocacy group

FIRST: Major American sport league forms partnership with LGBT sport advocacy group

The National Hockey League was the first major league to sign a formal partnership and funding agreement with an LGBTQ sport organization, and dedicate significant resources (relative to other areas of diversity) toward ending homophobia.  

About: The NHL partnered with You Can Play (co-founded by gay amateur hockey players and sport executives and Brian/Patrick Burke (high profile NHL execs) and the organization drove the first league-wide adoption of pride games, developed education programs for NHL players, and pioneered using videos to raise awareness featuring celebrity players.

Progress: The NHL has not achieved its main goal of encouraging gay pro players to come out, but it is unique in that it has fulfilled all of its funding and implementation commitments. Peer-reviewed studies describe the NHL as the only sports league in the world to demonstrate consistent interest in ending homophobia. Learn more here

2015

FIRST: Major sport world governing body commits to end homophobia

FIRST: Major sport world governing body commits to end homophobia

World Rugby was the first world governing body to sign a formal commitment to ‘eliminate’ homophobia and agreed work closely with, and consult, International Gay Rugby (an international rugby organization) on LGBT issues. 

Progress: None. Read more below.

Learn More

World Rugby held meetings, and created quite a few internal documents and plans, but:

  • No dedicated funding or resources put toward solving this problem and no effective programs created 
  • More than half of male rugby players in three countries self-report using homophobic slurs (e.g. fag) in the past two weeks 
  • Most (80-90%) female rugby players say people automatically assume they are lesbians 
  • Banned trans women using widely criticized research (see 2019 IOC decision) 
2016

FIRST: American governing body signs homophobia commitment

FIRST: American governing body signs homophobia commitment

USA Rugby was the first American national governing body to sign a formal commitment develop policies and programs to end homophobia.

About: The MoU committed USA Rugby to dedicate resources and focus to this area of diversity and work with the LGBTQ rugby community to find solutions.

2016

SECOND IOC Scientific Consensus Statement on LGBTQ discrimination

SECOND IOC Scientific Consensus Statement on LGBTQ discrimination

A second Consensus Statement from the IOC’s Scientific Panel says LGBTQ people need special protection in sports due to the uniquely high-risk they will experience physical and psychological abuse from others.

Key Findings:  The IOC scientists also found the continued discrimination experienced by LGBTQ people in sport is due to a lack of effective “leadership by the major international and national sport organisations” which have a legal obligation to protect these athletes. 

2016

THIRD time that all major sports in a country (NZ) commit to end homophobia

THIRD time that all major sports in a country (NZ) commit to end homophobia

New Zealand’s six major sports publicly committed to address homophobia in sport and set a deadline for a strategy of 31 Dec, 2016. 

About: Led by Rugby NZ, the governing bodies formed a task force to co-develop solutions. The members were provided with a range of resources, including support from academics, industry experts, and sport leaders from other countries.

Progress 2016 – 2021: None. There is no evidence of activity beyond a website and information video.  NZ Rugby joined Rainbow Tick, but this is about the head office, not the game.
Is this assessment peer-reviewed? Yes. Four academic papers. (learn more)

2016

FIRST: UK Parliament special debate on homophobia in sport

FIRST: UK Parliament special debate on homophobia in sport

The UK Parliament held a special debate to identify potential solutions to the lack of progress on homophobia in sport by the country’s governing bodies.

Conclusion: Sport bodies have made many promises and commitments to address this problem. There is some evidence of progress in overt homophobia and discrimination in some sports, and some evidence of program and policies being implemented (e.g. Rugby League). However, Parliament concluded there is little evidence of action in football.

2017

FIRST: Formal political inquiry into homophobia in sport conducted by a national government

FIRST: Formal political inquiry into homophobia in sport conducted by a national government

The UK Parliament is the first in the world to launch a formal public inquiry into homophobia in sport. 

About: The decision to hold the inquiry was a natural progression of cross-party political leadership and interest in this topic which began in 2003. This included

  • Funding a comprehensive international review and investigation led by one of the world’s most respected sport researchers (see 2008)
  • Coordinating a joint-commitment by all sport bodies to rid UK sport of homophobia (see 2011)
  • Conducting a special parliamentary debate to identify ways to drive action (see 2016)

Motivation: The powerful cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee launched the Inquiry in response to evidence that homophobic behavior remained rife in UK sport and was becoming a bigger problem in sport than racism. It oversees sport funding. The Committee reviewed evidence and conducted hearings throughout 2017.

2017

14 YEARS: since the FA said it was a ‘leader’ on ending homophobia the Chair says homophobia rife

14 YEARS: since the FA said it was a ‘leader’ on ending homophobia the Chair says homophobia rife

FA Chair Greg Clarke said little had changed during evidence at the UK Parliamentary Inquiry into homophobia in sport. 

Clarke was asked if the FA has made any progress on it’s multiple commitments, as well as its 2012 detailed action plan. Clarke tells the Committee: progress has been limited; homophobia is still rife; it is hard to crack; he believes it would be unsafe for a gay professional player to come out.

2017

SECOND: Joint commitment by UK Sports to take action on homophobia

SECOND: Joint commitment by UK Sports to take action on homophobia

All major UK sport governing bodies and sport agencies provided written responses to the Parliament Inquiry, and all committed to take action to end homophobia (this is the FA’s fourth commitment)

More info: key submissions from sport governing bodies

2017

FIRST: National government releases transgender inclusion guidelines

FIRST: National government releases transgender inclusion guidelines

Australia was the first country to tell sport organizations that they have a legal obligation to stop discriminatory behaviors toward LGBTQ people, and it also became the first country to provide legal guidelines on the inclusion of trans and gender diverse athletes.

Background: The government embarked on an extensive consultation process in order to create guidelines to provide clarity to all stakeholders in sport. There were also calls for a consistent approach across all sports in the wake of controversy caused by the country’s largest sport (Aussie Rules) banning a transgender female athlete. Hannah Mouncey wanted to try-out for the soon to be launched AFLW competition. The ban led to threats of legal action and legal scholars suggested the AFL’s decision may have violated Anti-Discrimination laws, but the Government needed to provide greater clarity. The Guidelines say sports organizations need to prioritize inclusion, and trans athletes can only be excluded in a very limited number of circumstance. The bar to justify exclusion is also very high.

More info: Australian National Guidelines

2017

FIRST: Parliament Inquiry delivers findings

FIRST: Parliament Inquiry delivers findings

The UK Parliamentary Inquiry into homophobia in sport found little evidence of progress in Britain, or anywhere in the world.

Key findings (full report):

  • “Despite the significant change in society’s attitudes to homosexuality in the last 30 years, there is little reflection of this progress being seen in football.”
  • “We have serious concerns over the effects of low participation among LGB youth on their mental and physical health and well-being.”
  • “The casual use of homophobic epithets and terms has a wide-ranging and damaging effect.”
  • “A zero-tolerance approach to the use of all homophobic language and behaviours should be implemented.”
2017

FIRST: Professional sports league becomes major sponsor of Rainbow Laces

FIRST: Professional sports league becomes major sponsor of Rainbow Laces

The Premier League partially acts on recommendation #13 made by the UK Parliament Inquiry to “commit funds and resources” to interventions such as Rainbow Laces” by becoming a major sponsor.

There is no evidence that the Premier League, or the FA, have taken action on the rest of recommendation #13 to “incorporate television and cinema advertisements, screens at football matches and outside advertising such as bus-stop advertisements. This must be a sustained effort over a significant period of time, rather than a short-term commitment.” There is also no evidence they have adopted the other recommendations made by the Inquiry.

 

2019

THIRD IOC Scientific Consensus: LGBTQ athletes at uniquely “high-risk” of abuse

THIRD IOC Scientific Consensus: LGBTQ athletes at uniquely “high-risk” of abuse

The International Olympic Committee’s Science Panel has released three Consensus Statements since 2007 that say LGBTQ athletes need unique protection from abuse and discrimination.

Findings: The Scientific Panels are tasked with reaching consensus on matters of scientific concern to sport governing bodies. The 2019 Consensus found, yet again, that LGBTQ people have a uniquely “high risk” (relative to all other groups) of experiencing physical, psychological, and sexual abuse (e.g. verbal, bullying, exclusion, assaults) in sport settings.

New: The 2019 statement also concluded “transgender athletes often have negative experiences in sports and may struggle to be accepted even after they meet criteria allowing them to participate.”

2020

IOC delays new transgender guidelines – World Rugby bans trans women

IOC delays new transgender guidelines – World Rugby bans trans women

The IOC decides to delay the introduction of new transgender participation guidelines, which are the benchmark for sports globally, until after the Tokyo Olympics, so it can conduct more consultation. World Rugby decides not to wait. It bans trans women from all  female international competitions. The decision attracts strong criticism from scientists. National governing bodies can adopt their own policies for domestic competitions.

2020

FA Chairman resigns after casual racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks to parliament

FA Chairman resigns after casual racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks to parliament

FA Chair Greg Clarke forced to resign over the language he used when giving evidence to a UK Parliamentary Committee asking about the FA’s progress on diversity.