The atmosphere of sport is often charged with highly competitive and hostile attitudes, and yet it is also a main component of most athletes’ social lives. In society as whole, there are endless conflicts that range in severity and are caused by differences in people’s beliefs, values, and opinions. The world of competitive sport is certainly no stranger to conflict, both internally among team members as well as externally among fans, media, officials, and competitors.
It is the belief of some people that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are a disruptive element for all competitive sport teams and that although they should be allowed to participate they should have to follow a special set of rules to ensure that they do not influence or jeopardize the safety or psychological well being of their teammates. This belief is not only absurd but it is also discriminatory and based on nothing more than ignorance.
The truth of the matter is that gay, lesbian, and bisexual (LGB) athletes pose absolutely no threat, physically or psychologically, to their heterosexual teammates, and in fact it is heterosexuals who put the safety and psychological well being of LGB athletes at serious risk. It is known and has been proven that homosexual men and women have been and still are active in both mainstream and gay community athletics (Hekma, 1994).
Although all athletes interact with friends, coaches, teachers, peers, or relatives who are homosexuals quite often they are unaware of these people’s sexual orientation (WSF, 2001). Many LGB athletes do not immediately disclose their sexual orientation to teammates and they become an important part of their team both on and off the field. This proves that homosexuals are not the sex-crazed perverts that they are often portrayed as by society, but they are in fact normal people with individual personalities and interests who blend into society without difficulty (Corvino, 1997).
If people focused less on what homosexuals do and more on who they are then much of the controversy about homosexuals in sport, and in society as a whole, could be avoided (LeVay, 1996). Not only are LGB athletes undisruptive but in many ways they are helpful to the sport community. Since athletes are living in a society and world where LGB people are present and ever more visible it is important for young people to develop their own attitudes and beliefs about LGB people without basing them on prejudice or fear (WSF, 2001).
Through participating in sports with LGB athletes people are able cultivate individual attitudes by getting to know the LGB athletes as people and teammates as well as learning to tolerate and accept their differences, rather than labeling them with a negative stereotype thus contributing to the ignorance surrounding LGB people. In most instances where there is internal team conflict over sexual orientation it is the ignorance of the heterosexuals involved that is to blame, not the LGB athletes who want nothing more than the chance to play and fair treatment.
By labeling LGB athletes as the problem instead of homophobia the result is increased ignorance, fear, and bigotry (WSF, 2001). Perhaps the most common fear associated with allowing LGB athletes to participate equally on teams with heterosexuals is that they will influence other team members in such a way as to “make” them gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Application of scientific findings and common sense can easily diffuse such a fear.
Although there is no concrete proof that can identify the cause or origin of homosexuality, there are two main theories that are often debated and referred to as “the nature/nurture debate”(Corvino, 1997). Those who support the nature theory believe that sexual orientation is natural and people are born as either heterosexuals or homosexuals because of biological factors such as genetics, hormones, and brain anatomy (Corvino, 1997). The nurture theory aims to prove that sexual orientation is determined by environmental factors making it a learned behavior and essentially a choice (Corvino, 1997).
If the origin of homosexuality is in fact biological, LGB athletes cannot influence teammates because each person has a predetermined sexual orientation that cannot be changed. By the same token, if homosexuality is a choice then it is a choice that can only be made by each individual and LGB athletes cannot turn their teammates into homosexuals. Regardless of its origin, the one thing that is known about homosexuality is that it is not contagious giving athletes no reason to fear being influenced by LGB teammates.
The results of a survey of 277 LGB athletes in the Netherlands reveled that of those surveyed 18% of the women and 16% of the men claimed to have been victims of discrimination based on sexual orientation, which caused physical and/or emotional pain and was initiated by their teammates (Hekma, 1994). The experiences of these athletes included being physically beaten in the dressing room, banned from their club, told that they were not welcome in the dressing rooms or showers after games, and, most commonly, being the target of derogatory jokes and degrading insults (Hekma, 1994).
Unfortunately, this is the reality of many LGB athletes all over the world, and quite often it causes serious emotional pain and damage. Even when LGB athletes do not reveal their sexuality, they can suffer both psychologically and emotionally because of their attempts to conceal their true identity and worry of not being accepted (Hekma, 1994). Research has shown that LGB athletes are more likely to be physically and/or psychologically damaged by their heterosexual teammates than they are of causing any physical or psychological harm to these teammates (Hekma, 1994).
Although the fears of LGB athletes causing problems in athletics are unsubstantiated, they are present and often gain more attention than the truth that LGB athletes are usually the victims, not the offenders. There is no doubt that there are numerous elements in competitive team sports which can become disruptive, however, allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual athletes to compete equally with heterosexuals is not one of them. All individuals should have equal opportunities to participate in sport regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation.
Setting different sets of rules for groups of people based on differences rather than skill is discriminatory and totally unnecessary. Science as well as personal experiences has confirmed that there is no reason to fear or mistrust homosexuals; further more, it is the physical and psychological well being of homosexual athletes that is at greater risk than that of their heterosexual teammates. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual athletes are by no means a disruptive element for any competitive sport team; in any case where such an accusation is made, the disruptive element is in fact ignorance and bigotry, not sexual orientation.