Scotland has been highlighted as the most progressive country in Europe for LGBTI rights and inclusion; as legislative progress and cultural changes are made in Scotland is it possible that in future LGBTI-specific sports groups will not need to exist?
This was a question considered at an”Out and Integrated” event on Wednesday evening, hosted by LGBTI networking group SWAN and LEAP Sports, at which a number of voices from within Scottish sport sought to unravel the various issues surrounding inclusion, equality and the value of LGBTI sports organisations.
On the panel were Fiona Fagan (partnership manager at sportscotland), Gemma Simpson (equalities officer for triathlonscotland), Kirsty McAlpine (convenor of Out for Independence), Jason Bohan (jog secretary for Glasgow Frontrunners) and KaleidoScot’s Andrew Page (former football coach, Motherwell Ladies). The meeting was chaired by Carole Anderson of SWAN.
Kicking off, Fiona Fagan argued that people’s expectations of what sport could offer them “were often determined by negative experiences”. Many of these formative experiences could be at grassroots level and especially in schools – where there remains significant work to do in challenging the pressures to conform to conventional heterosexual binary interpretations of sexual identity. This is where inclusion must start – at the very beginning.
Kirsty McAlpine dealt directly with the question of whether LGBTI sports clubs were necessary at a time when non-LGBTI specific clubs were becoming more inclusive. “It’s not a question of one or the other”, she explained. “We can, and should, have both.” She believed LGBTI sports organisations contribute so much to inclusion within sport and that the simple binary question of one or the other was unhelpful.
Gemma Simpson was keen to talk about the significance of role models – and that it’s difficult when it’s not safe to be out. LGBTI sports clubs provide that safety. She also was keen to ensure that debate surrounding inclusion is led by the views and experiences of LGBTI people.
Jason Bohan was keen to follow on this. All this is true, he said, but inclusion goes beyond this. Asking what is truly inclusive, he outlined how Glasgow Frontrunners has looked at ways of becoming more inclusive on a practically level – such as events for younger people and ensuring those completely new to running feel welcomed and included. He also explained what the club has done to reach out to women, who were initially under-represented.
Andrew Page agreed with the view that LGBTI specific clubs remain important at a time when many sports clubs are seeking to become more inclusive. He gave an example of a club he worked with that is making strides forward in terms of facilitating equality, but felt there was still a place for LGBTI groups. “The need is changing. At one time, not so long ago, the need was for LGBTI people to have a safe environment to enjoy sport. Now, it’s about community and self-identity. And that’s part of what inclusion means.” He also stressed that the existence of LGBTI sports clubs should not preclude non LGBTI specific clubs from addressing equality issues, and that there is scope for collaboration.
Questions were invited from the well-informed audience, who were keen to engage with the issues. Barriers to inclusion were raised, and it became apparent that many present could identify with the negative experiences Fiona Fagan had described. One person argued that the way clubs are marketed – and the language they use – can be offputting. Fiona agreed, and explained that this is an ongoing challenge for sportscotland. She agreed that there is often an education gap at club level, and especially at grassroots clubs which are run by volunteers with only a basic grasp of what it means to be inclusive. She also highlighted the problem of gender imbalance in sport, which is common at all levels.
Andrew Page echoed some of this, but also asked whether LGBTI clubs were as inclusive as they sometimes imagined themselves to be. He explained that he had recently been in touch with a male-only sports club that described itself as “LGBTI”: “not too many lesbians there, you’d have to think”, he said.
Jason Bohan accepted the need to raise awareness of diversity problems within sports. He rejected the idea that LGBTI specific groups could be “ghettoising” and emphasised the need for these clubs and groups to be more visible within the sports fraternity more generally. He gave the example of Glasgow Frontrunners hosting a 5K event later in the year, which is open to runners from other clubs and none. “We’re giving something back”, he explained. Jason felt the focus should always be on the sport itself.
A young man present asked why there was so little access to sport for people aged between 16-25. Fiona and Gemma accepted that sports clubs were often adult-orientated and that often people in their late 20s and early 30s come “back” to sports. There was more to be done on this front, and it is something their respective organisations were engaging with. Andrew added that, from his experience on football, too often clubs accept young people of any ability in their under-16s teams, but after that it becomes very competitive and many just drop out. “We need to do more to give people the opportunity to play recreational sport, not just competitive, and that’s one way in which LGBTI clubs can fit in.”
A trans woman talked about body confidence being a potential barrier to participation. For many trans people sports facilities are not fit for purpose and there is a fear of involvement, she suggested – adding that she didn’t feel enough LGBTI-friendly clubs were addressing this. All the panel agreed this was a significant issue, with Kirsty stressing that “inclusive clubs” have to address the needs of every member. Fiona described how progress is taking place, but that many of the older sports facilities many clubs use (but don’t own) are not ideal for trans people or indeed disabled people.
There was broad agreement that LGBTI specific sports clubs have a significant benefit and have contributed in no small way to normalising LGBTI involvement in sport – although it was also accepted that we cannot be complacent in assuming they are by nature genuinely diverse and inclusive. None of the panel, or indeed any of the attendees, envisaged a time when LGBTI specific sports organisations would be totally unnecessary. The general feeling was that LGBTI Clubs are central to achieving diversity in conjunction with various sports bodies and other equality initiatives.