Montreal Alouettes’ Michael Sam is set to make his pro football debut as he warms up before the first half of a CFL game against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes after being released by St. Louis, but abruptly left after playing one game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Montreal Alouettes’ Michael Sam is set to make his pro football debut as he warms up before the first half of a CFL game against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes after being released by St. Louis, but abruptly left after playing one game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Study finds Canada a ‘laggard’ on homophobia in sports

Among females, 44 per cent of Canadians who’ve come out to teammates reported being victimized

Chris Voth’s sexuality cost him a job with a professional volleyball team overseas four years ago.

The Winnipeg native, who has never named the team nor country, was told outright that the club wasn’t interested in having a gay player.

The 30-year-old came out publicly seven years ago because he hoped to be a role model for young LGBTQ athletes, and given the chance to go back and change that, he wouldn’t.

But Voth was disheartened to learn that the majority of gay athletes still don’t come out, and that homophobic language on the field or court remains rampant — and Canada is among the worst offenders.

“That was disappointing, because I always like to think that we’re a bit more further ahead up north (compared to the U.S.),” said Voth, recently home from coaching in the Netherlands.

The former national team player was responding to two studies released Thursday by Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

The first study analyzed survey responses from 1,173 lesbian, gay and bisexual people aged 15 to 21 living in Canada, the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland.

The study found that about 48 per cent of Canadian youth who come out to teammates reported being the target of homophobic behaviour, including bullying, assaults and slurs — and it was more prevalent among Canadian youth than Americans (45 per cent).

Among females, 44 per cent of Canadians who’ve come out to teammates reported being victimized — more than any other country surveyed by Monash’s Behavioural Sciences Research Laboratory.

“It’s easy for Canadians to dismiss the data and say, ‘No, no, that’s not in our country. We’re inclusive and welcoming. And we’re known around the world for being friendly and polite and nice,’” said lead author Erik Denison, who’s Canadian.

“Canada has been a laggard globally, full stop. There’s no other way to say that.”

Young people who came out were significantly more likely (58 per cent versus 40 per cent) to report they’d been the target of homophobic behaviors in sport settings than those who didn’t, the study found.

Every study over the past 15 years has shown that LGBTQ kids play sport at lower rates than straight kids, Denison said, and while there’s a perception that the gap is more prevalent in boys than girls, that’s not accurate.

“And seeing these big gaps in participation, I can only use the word alarming,” said Denison. “We’re really alarmed about both discrimination in sport, and the fact these kids are avoiding sport.

“Because the No. 1 thing we could be doing to reduce rates of suicide and self-harm is encouraging these kids to become active in safe and supportive environments.”

Numerous studies have shown that suicide attempts and ideation about suicide are significantly higher in LGBTQ kids.

Voth’s experiences as an out athlete varied wildly. The 30-year-old believes discrimination cost him spots on several pro clubs, contract negotiations inexplicably stalling with no explanation. On the other hand, when he signed with a pro team in Finland, he was “the first gay person that any of them had met. And only a month-and-a-half later, we were the first pro volleyball team to walk in a pride parade. So it can really go either way.”

Voth said LGBTQ youth are doubly impacted, losing out on the mental health benefits that come from being part of a team.

The second Monash study investigated why some athletes use homophobic language.

Denison pointed out that while there are “homophobes, racists and sexist people everywhere,” they tend to control their behaviour around others.

“The opposite is happening in sport. In sport, the culture is very supportive of homophobic language being used,” he said. “Canadian sport has three official languages: French, English and homophobic language.”

And while most people believe it’s slurs aimed at opponents during games, their studies found that homophobic language is being used at practices, in the locker-room, and at social events, as jokes and banter.

“And we’re not just talking about words like ‘gay,’ we asked about much more severe language,’” Denison said.

He is working with the University of British Columbia among other schools around the world on a program aimed to train team captains to be leaders on this issue, because coaches can’t necessarily create change, it’s more effective when it comes from an athlete’s peers.

Denison said that Volleyball Canada is the only national sport organization in the country that has done work specifically targeting homophobia, and it occurred around the same time Voth came out publicly.

“I don’t want to denigrate what the NHL (among other leagues) has done, but at the end of the day, the NHL is a professional sporting organization, they’re ultimately a business,” Denison said. “It’s up to Hockey Canada, it’s up to Soccer Canada, it’s up to Rugby Canada, it’s up to those bodies and provincial bodies as well to be driving change.”

The Canadian Olympic Committee has done anti-homophobia social media campaigns, mall installations, and regularly marches in pride parades across the country.

Pro sports teams such as Toronto FC and the Toronto Raptors host annual pride games.

Denison said his research, however, has shown those initiatives do little to reduce homophobic behaviour and language among fans. He’d rather see pro teams work with teams and programs at the grassroots level to hold their own pride games, among other initiatives.

“What we’ve seen is that when amateur-level teams hold pride games, the players on those teams use half the homophobic language than those who don’t hold these events,” Denison said. “These events are really good at getting those conversations going around ‘Hey, guys, what kind of language do we actually want on our team?’ That’s where we can change those norms and culture, we think quite effectively.”

Denison pointed out that there are openly-LGBTQ people in entertainment, government, and major corporations, but by comparison, they largely remain invisible in sports, particularly on the men’s side, and have since David Kopay came out in 1975 after he retired from the NFL. He’s believed to be the first pro athlete to come out.

Michael Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes after being released by St. Louis, but abruptly left after playing one game.

Brooklyn Nets forward Jason Collins came out in 2013, and former Major League Soccer midfielder Collin Martin followed suit in 2018. Collins has retired, and Martin plays in the USL, and there have been no active gay players in any of the five major North American sports leagues since.

Women’s pro sport has been a different story. Sports power couple Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe are two of the numerous out athletes in the WNBA, NWSL, and other women’s leagues.

For Denison, Canada’s track record is particularly disheartening.

“It’s quite embarrassing for me as a Canadian researcher who happens to be down in Australia now to see that Canada is a laggard. Because I’m a proud Canadian, and I think Canadians have a reputation for being friendly and inclusive.

“But it looks like either Canadians have been ignoring this issue, we’re not aware of this issue, or worse, maybe there’s some deliberate resistance to do anything about this problem.”

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rachna Singh, MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers, is the Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/bcgovphotos)
Traffic waits at the intersection of Highway 17 and Beacon Avenue. A study found failing levels of service at the intersection of Highway 17 and Sidney’s Beacon Avenue for multiple movements during morning peak traffic and for all left-moving traffic during afternoon peak traffic. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Province supports potential interim improvements to Sidney intersection

Province says interchange is the long-term plan for intersection of Beacon Avenue and Highway 17

A micro brewery is being eyed for Jordan River. However, the site where the brewery is proposed still needs to go through the rezoning process. (Black Press Media file)
Micro brewery proposed for Jordan River

Jordan River Brewing Company envisions to build wholesale, sit-in brewery along Highway 14

Oak Bay local Lachlan Kratz (red, middle) has signed with pro rugby team NOLO Gold in Louisiana. (Contributed photo)
Oak Bay local signs with pro rugby team

Lachlan Kratz at 21 is now NOLO Gold’s youngest member

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

Most Read