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LGBT Students Benefit From Athletics, But Often Subjected to Harassment

By Sunnivie Brydum

A new research brief published today by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network concluded that LGBT students who participate in team sports benefit from athletics, but also report being bullied and harassed in gym class due to their sexual orientation. 

The brief, titled "The Experiences of LGBT Students in School Athletics," examines data from more than 8,000 secondary school students in more than 3,000 school districts included in GLSEN's 2011 National School Climate Survey. GLSEN notes that LGBT students often find physical education classes and sports teams unsafe, placing significant barriers in accessing the benefits generally provided by team sports and athletic activity, including elevated grade point averages, self esteem, and improved physical health.

"GLSEN's groundbreaking research has delved into nearly every aspect of school life for LGBT youth, and our findings demonstrate the concrete benefits that school athletics can provide LGBT students," said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN's Executive Director in a statement. "We have also found critical gaps of safety and support that highlight the need for coaches, P.E. teachers and athletic directors to take action to ensure that school gymnasiums, playing fields and locker rooms are safe, inclusive and respectful places for all students."

Key findings from the report include:

  • "Many LGBT students in school participated in interscholastic sports (23.2%) or intramural sports teams (13.4%), yet LGBT students were about half as likely to play interscholastic sports as their non-LGBT peers (23.2% vs 47.8%).
  • LGBT student athletes reported higher grade point averages (GPAs) as team members (3.2) and team leaders (3.4) compared to non-athletes (3.0). LGBT student athletes were also more likely to report having higher self-esteem and feelings of belonging to their school.
  • More than a quarter of LGBT student athletes reported having been harassed or assaulted while playing on a school sports team because of their sexual orientation (27.8%) or gender expression (29.4%).
  • More than half of LGBT students who took a P.E. class were bullied or harassed during P.E. because of their sexual orientation (52.8%) or gender expression (50.9%).
  • LGBT students commonly avoided athletic spaces at school including locker rooms (39.0%), P.E. classes (32.5%) and school athletic fields and facilities (22.8%) because of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.
  • A vast majority (74.9%) of LGBT students said that they were uncomfortable talking to their P.E. teachers or coaches about LGBT issues. Students who did feel comfortable talking to their P.E. teachers or coaches experienced less discomfort, harassment and assault in athletics than their peers who did not feel comfortable."

Read the entire report as a PDF here

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