Comment: When it comes to LGBT equality the next big battle is sport

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Writing for, Chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Adrian Trett says he is “bitterly ashamed” in the way that LGBT people are not treated as mainstream in the area of sport.

In the three years I’ve been Chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems, equal marriage has been the major campaign that we set out as a group to achieve. Although the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act is not perfect in several respects, especially with regards to the provisions for trans people, it’s a great achievement nevertheless, especially in a Coalition Government. However, our campaign work doesn’t stop there. New priorities and objectives will be set over the coming months. For instance, supporting other nations to take steps on the journey to equality, especially in Commonwealth countries. Whether it is decriminalisation as a starting point, or equal marriage, every step in the right direction must be welcomed.

However, as someone who loves and enjoys sport to their core, I am still bitterly ashamed in the way that LGBT+ people are not treated as mainstream in this area of society. The success of the 2012 Paralympics highlighted how treating disabled competitors as the equals of able-bodied athletes meant their achievements were recognised and celebrated with the same fervour and delight in television and newspaper coverage as the Olympics had been only a few weeks previous.

The bid for London to host the 2018 Gay Games could bring exactly the same benefits by treating athletes as equals regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, or in fact any difference of their background, faith, age or ethnicity (to be clear the Gay Games welcomes all competitors; it is NOT an event exclusive to LGBT+ people). It is especially there to allow those LGBT+ people who face execution, imprisonment or torture in their home countries to be able to compete in a safe and secure environment.

As a young person growing up in a community where announcing that one was gay would have brought ridicule by family, friends and acquaintances, I was vulnerable. Though I loved sport from an early age – I was a die-hard football player and fan, alongside a wide variety of other sports from cricket, tennis and swimming to athletics, golf and table tennis – I felt uncomfortable and unable to fully participate in the enjoyment of sport, especially in team sports, where shower room comments made one so uneasy, wondering what your team mates would say if you had ever uttered your true feelings. (In my It Gets Better clip, I highlight how things have changed for me.) I think I was rather lucky on several fronts, but in today’s society nobody should go through the experiences that I did.

There are those already on the campaign: Football Versus Homophobia, London’s bid for the Gay Games in 2018, and the Pride Sports and Out4Sport organisations who champion LGBT+ sport. But there needs to be more than that.

The Coalition Government needs to recognise that the Sports Charter – for professional and amateur teams to sign up to tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Sport under the stewardship of previous Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone – was a good start, but this has rather died a death and needs to be reinvigorated as a matter of urgency.

It is also great to see John Leech MP leading a campaign to eradicate homophobia in football stadiums; his work needs to be promoted and highlighted across our community.

Most of all, it’s the language that needs to change at the grassroots and in the stadiums. One of the key problems is “it’s only banter” – that calling a rubbish pass “gay” is no big deal. But reinforcing that gay means rubbish and second-class can only drive down the aspirations of young LGBT+ people when they hear adults shouting such things on the field of play. The use of words at school, in the playground and on the sports field is key to educating people from an early age and that using “gay” as a derogatory term is unacceptable. As Sean Dellenty, LGBT activist and deputy head-teacher of Alfred Salter School in Southwark, says: “Homophobic language destroys lives, can affect any child and has no place in our schools.”

Young people coming to terms with their sexuality and gender identity need support, engagement and understanding. Role models, particularly in sport, show that sexual orientation or gender identity need not be a barrier to achieving your potential.

Sport as a mechanism is fantastic at breaking down barriers; it now needs to ensure it fits into the 21st century and society in general by including LGBT+ people at all levels.

Adrian Trett is Chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, and Vice-Chair of the Liberal Democrats European Group.