‘You’re gay, this is gay’: how can we tackle homophobia in PE?

I came across an article by @matthewjenkin in The Guardian called ‘You’re gay, this is gay’: how can we tackle homophobia in PE? Evidence and experts suggest that 30 minutes of physical activity a day can have a positive effect on our health, mental health and general well-being. However this is not the case for some LGBT students, as the thought of PE and/or team based sports for them can be a cause of anxiety that they cannot avoid (being part of the school curriculum). The article addresses the use of homophobic language used in sporting activities (at school and extra curricular), as well as the effects this language has on LGBT students. It suggests how improving teacher awareness to the topic can be a first step towards positive change. It asks if a more diverse range of activities and games, which are less gender segregated would be beneficial.

‘You’re gay, this is gay’: how can we tackle homophobia in PE? by Matthew Jenkin

Gareth Thomas, Tom Daley, Martina Navratilova: you could probably list the number of openly gay and lesbian professional sports personalities on the corner of a napkin. But while more athletes are now publicly coming out, homophobia continues to keep many other sports people in the closet. Despite changing attitudes, it is also a problem in schools, where anti-gay prejudice can deter lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students from physical education.

According to research by equality rights group Stonewall, two-thirds of LGB pupils say they don’t like team sports, while three in 10 experience homophobic bullying in school changing rooms and a quarter are bullied during sport. The National Union of Students claims homophobia in schools can put students off sport for life.

At Broomwood primary school in Altrincham, Cheshire, there was concern around homophobia in PE; derogatory language was commonly heard on the football pitch at break and in lessons. “You’re gay”, “this is gay” and “those football boots are gay”, were insults regularly fired about by students. Assistant headteacher, Felicity Hawkins, felt it was important to treat homophobic language with the same zero-tolerance attitude as racism.

She noticed that the language was mainly being spoken by boys, so she chose a group of 20 students who used the word gay as a taunt in PE and as a daily part of their vernacular. Over the course of a term, teachers explored what the word means and helped students understand why using it in a negative way can be offensive, making a close comparison to racism. Finally, both girls and boys were set the task of creating a music video to help raise awareness about homophobia in school sport.

The frequency of homophobic language used by students during PE and at other times of the day has decreased dramatically since the drive began three years ago, claims Hawkins. All incidents of children using homophobic language are now recorded.

She says: “I’m not going to say that we have eradicated homophobic language from our school, because we haven’t. But the children are very clear on the consequences and the chain of events if they are found to use racist or homophobic language. That reduces the likelihood of these incidents.”

Like many gay men, Shaun Dellenty hated PE when he was a child. Homophobic abuse from teachers in the department went unchallenged and he was regularly bullied in lessons. On one occasion, he broke his ankle during a football match and the teacher simply laughed, kicked the swollen limb and called him a fairy.

Now an adult, Dellenty wants to stamp out anti-gay abuse in PE. The deputy headteacher at Alfred Salter primary school in south London is determined to ensure his students are not denied the benefits of getting involved in PE as he was.

The first step is to improve teacher awareness, dispelling myths about what LGBT people are and what they are not, he says. Dellenty’s Inclusion for All initiative trains educators around the country, and he claims PE is consistently identified by teachers as a department in need of attention.

Alfred Salter school hopes to lead by example with its holistic approach to inclusivity – tolerance, equality and diversity are highlighted in all parts of the curriculum. Teachers also expose children to a range of role models during lessons and the school regularly invites inspirational people from sport, business and charities to speak to students about their lives. Lesbian paralympian Claire Harvey, for example, talked about how she excelled in women’s sitting volleyball.

“It’s very important to look at the journeys of people involved in sport, looking at the diversity and barriers that they have overcome and using that to inspire young people,” he says. This approach is particularly important for students who may be feeling disheartened by their perceived lack of sporting ability. Dellenty adds that there should also be a focus on individual progress and development during PE, not just competition in team games. It’s about shifting your focus from the group to identify the needs of individual students who may be struggling. That may mean providing separate sessions for children to progress at their own pace.

Of course, it is not just on the pitch where students experience homophobia. According to Lou Englefield, director of Pride Sports, changing rooms are hotbeds of abuse and discrimination in secondary schools. Many LGBT young people she has spoken to haven’t been allowed to use communal facilities with other students. Instead, they have been asked to change in staff offices and disabled toilets. The most common reason, Englefield explains, is that young lesbians tend to be characterised as sexual predators while young gay men are seen as victims who need protection from homophobic bullying.

Again, the solution is better training of staff. Englefield says we need to educate coaches and PE teachers about the way that they deliver lessons and that it is not OK to deride each other as “gay” just because they are not good at sport.

But could offering a more diverse range of activities and games, which are less gender segregated, make a difference? It’s an attractive option for Englefield, who thinks mixed-sex sports, such as soft ball, help to break down gender stereotyping, which can lead to anti-gay abuse during school sports.

Research suggests 30 minutes of exercise can help to reduce stress levels, says Englefield. But for many LGBT students faced with homophobia at school, taking part in sports which would help them manage the anxiety of their emerging sexuality is simply not an option.

“Physical activity in sport is a major contributor to health and wellbeing for children and adults,” she adds. “But until schools tackle the problem of homophobia in PE, LGBT people will continue to be excluded from receiving those benefits at a time in their lives when gay and lesbian youngsters need them the most.”

The PE and school sports series is funded by the Youth Sport Trust. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled “brought to you by”. Find out more here.

Posted on February 10, 2015, in Blogging, Curriculum, Leadership, Policy, Practice, Research, Social Media and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’ve shown this to my class and to our kids in LBGA, and they love it, and I’m telling you the “this is so gay” has pretty much stopped. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That is a great video, thanks so much for sharing. It is one I will definitely pass on. B


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