4 Ways to be an Athlete Ally to Women in Sports
Historically, many women have been discouraged from playing competitive sports, because it was considered to be unfeminine and improper. The social stigma of being associated with "manliness" or lesbianism was used to discourage women from playing sports . In order to play, many women had to perform hyper-femininity (i.e. wearing makeup, dressing "feminine," long hair, etc.) to avoid being targeted as lesbians . These homophobic sentiments have endured within women’s sports programs today. Below are a few tips on how to be an ally and help break this cycle (these tips can also be helpful for all LGBT athletes):
1. LET PEOPLE BE THEMSELVES. As an ally, be supportive and encourage people to be comfortable in their own shoes. Don’t police someone who prefers to wear non-feminine clothing or hairstyles. Also, don't discourage people from hanging out with people perceived to be gay, forbid people from joining LGBT groups, or discourage people from attending LGBT-themed events. Believe it or not, there have been instances where female athletes and coaches have been released from their sports programs for these very reasons.
2. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR WORDS. Sometimes without realizing it, the comments we make can be hurtful. Saying things like "she looks like a man" or making negative comments about "unfeminine" hairstyle and wardrobe choices reinforces negative attitudes toward lesbian and bisexual female athletes. Also, refrain from using phrases like "that’s so gay" to refer to something you don't like. That, too, reinforces negative attitudes towards gay people.
3. SPEAK UP. If you hear someone use hateful language like "dyke" or other homophobic comments, speak up. Politely ask them to not use that type of language. You also want to put your wellbeing first. If you find that the situation escalates, do your best to walk away from the situation.
4. SAFETY FIRST. If you suspect that someone is being treated unfairly because of their perceived sexual orientation, consult someone who can help. Things to look out for: name calling, bullying, threats, pressure to wear more feminine clothing or hairstyles, pressure to keep relationships or friendships out of the public eye, expressed fear of losing scholarships or spot on the roster, and expressed fear of losing playing time. Teammates, coaches, sports administrators, and fans can be perpetrators of discriminatory behavior. Try your best to be proactive and supportive. As an ally, you don’t want someone to go through any of this alone. Where to seek help: Your school's Women's Sports Administrators, Lambda Legal, and National Center for Lesbian Rights. Additional tips: Be aware of your rights. Check to see what university policies, municipal, state, and federal legislation protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
By: Kristine Palma | firstname.lastname@example.org
Kristine is a Masters Candidate at San Diego State University. She is completing a thesis on addressing the interrelated barriers of sexism, racism, and homophobia in women’s sports.