Untapped potential to boost LGBT+ participation in physical activity

Date: 22 September 2020   Author: Energise Me

People who identify as LGBT+ are less likely than heterosexual people to do enough physical activity to maintain ‘good’ health. New research reveals potential to increase participation.

Funded by Sport England, we teamed up with Bournemouth University to explore the role the workforce could play in increasing LGBT+ access to physical activity and sport. We looked at:

  1. Workforce representation
  2. Skills, competencies and behaviours
  3. Potential to address real or perceived barriers to participation

Bournemouth University’s research, published in the Pride in Our Workforce report, reveals risks to LGBT+ communities’ enjoyment of physical activity and sport. But, importantly, it also highlights opportunities and a willingness to drive change.

The workforce holds existing transferable skills connected to inclusion remits and policy, which can explicitly enable LGBT+ communities to access physical activity and sport.

Bournemouth University

Workforce representation

The Pride in Our Workforce report presents clear evidence that the physical activity and sport workforce is not as representative of LGBT+ communities as it could be. Heterosexual and non-transgender participants are more likely to occupy workforce roles than participants with other gender (eg non-binary) or sexual (eg gay men or lesbian) identities. They are also more likely to feel comfortable expressing their gender or sexual identity at work.

The importance of representation is reflected in survey comments, which call for LGBT+ role models and leaders. Respondents want to see openly LGBT+ leaders at elite and grassroots levels – be it high-profile athletes and pundits (e.g. Gareth Thomas and Claire Balding) or LGBT+ individuals in the physical activity workforce.

Although the survey respondents who identified as transgender were highly active in everyday life this did not translate to them holding workforce roles. This highlights an opportunity to encourage participants who identify as LGBT+ to play a more prominent role in our clubs, programmes and activities.

More LGBT+ ambassadors – those who are ‘out’ and like me! Not just famous people, but local people too.

Research participant 45, gay woman

Skills, competencies and behaviour

LGBT+ respondents rated the physical activity and sport workforce as highly qualified and experienced. On these criteria, the workforce exceeded their expectations. But these were not the attributes valued most by LGBT+ participants. For those who identified as LGBT+ it was more important for the workforce to be approachable, inclusive and understanding.

On the one hand, this highlights the importance of a person-centred approach that is welcoming and responsive to individuals’ needs. But comments also revealed a need for greater knowledge and understanding of language and issues that affect LGBT+ communities. This was reflected both by LGBT+ respondents, particularly those identifying as transgender, and by members of the workforce.

One workforce member said “I do feel woefully underprepared when it comes to trans individuals… I am not sure how best to accommodate a member who is non-cisgender.”

I do feel woefully underprepared when it comes to trans individuals… I am not sure how best to accommodate a member who is non-cisgender.

Research participant 83, gay man

Others lacked specific experience with LGBT+ communities but spoke confidently about different aspects of inclusion. Although they had not specifically considered it before, they were keen to engage LGBT+ communities and immediately began generating ideas. Pride in Our Workforce presents an opportunity for our local workforce and LGBT+ communities to work together to enhance access and provision.

… the physical activity and sport workforce (non-LGBT+ and LGBT+) has untapped potential to play a more prominent role in providing opportunities for LGBT+ communities.

Bournemouth University

Potential to address real and perceived barriers

The research shines a spotlight on stereotypical views, behaviour and language. This affects the degree to which individuals feel welcome and able to express their gender or sexual identity.

Several respondents referenced potentially hurtful ‘banter’ and assumptions about gender or sexuality. Examples included comments such as “don’t be a big girl’s blouse”, “that’s so gay”, and “what does your husband do?”. One research participant shared experiences of classes in which instructors had said things like “women grab an x weight, men a y weight”, which were “both gendering and weakening”.

Not for a moment do I think anyone is homophobic, but some language that is used – whilst it may not offend me, especially when it’s not directed at me – does make me feel a little unwelcome.

Research participant 79, gay man

As a sector, hurtful language and behaviour is an area that we urgently need to address. This means upskilling ourselves and our participants to recognise, avoid, challenge and prevent it. Only then will we be able to create environments that feel safe and welcoming.

If you’re unfamiliar with LGBT+ language Stonewall’s glossary of terms is a great place to start. You can also email Sophie to register interest for future Pride in Our Workforce training and resources.

Deal quickly and effectively with any homophobia and provide education to those involved.

Research participant 168, lesbian woman

Pride in Our Workforce

The Pride in Our Workforce Report delves deeper into five ways that we can improve inclusivity. This is the beginning of our research and a bigger conversation through which we intend to spark action. We hope you’ll be part of that conversation and work with us to harness the wealth of ideas, skills and untapped potential in the sector. Together, we can enable LGBT+ access to physical activity and sport.

Download the full report

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