Free To Exist Report

To celebrate IDAHOBIT on May 17, Vicsport joined VicHealth and Swinburne University to hold an event that launched the ‘Free to Exist’ report, analysing LGBTIQA+ young people’s participation in sport and physical activity.

One of the first Australian studies to document participation rates of LGBTIQA+ people in sport and provide current data on the prevalence of discrimination for LGBTIQA+ people across sport and movement settings, the event provided an opportunity for Chief Investigator, Dr Ryan Storr, to present his discoveries to the Victorian sport and recreation sector.

Through five focus groups and 506 LGBTIQA+ young people that participated in a quantitative survey, key takeaways included findings that 53% of LGBTIQA+ young people witnessed discrimination within sport settings, 40% experienced discrimination, 76% of gay men witnessed homophobia and 63% of gay men had experienced homophobia.

Although these rates show improvements from an Out in the Fields Study from 2014, the slow decline in discrimination proves that work needs to continue, especially against a backdrop of resistance to LGBTIQA+ equalities from some within the industry.

A dominant theme across the focus groups found that young people simply want to be themselves and ‘just exist’, free to not have their identity challenged, questioned, ridiculed, resisted or invalidated.

This is central to Vicsport’s rainbow inclusion commitment, that there is a place in sport for everyone, exactly as you are. Our Inclusion webpage outlines why LGBTIQA+ inclusion is important, organisations that can assist in promoting and celebrating diversity within sporting organisations as well as resources such as appropriate language and terminology, how to be an active ally and relevant days of significance.

The ‘Free to Exist’ report also found that when LGBTIQA+ young people engage in sport and physical activity, their biggest motivations are for physical health and fitness (62%), fun and enjoyment (60%) and to improve mental health (37%). The biggest enablers of participation for this group were friend referrals (57%), welcoming and affirming culture of LGBTIQA+ people (45%), and LGBTIQA+ specific come-and-try programs (42%).

An organisation that has found success in addressing the concerns of their rainbow participants is Lacrosse Victoria, who initiated a Pride Cup in 2022.

“After running some focus groups and consulting with members, we identified that the LGBTIQ+ space was something that needed addressing within lacrosse,” said Lacrosse Victoria Development Officer, Kristen Hutchison.

“Some members of the LGBTIQ+ lacrosse community felt there was a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ mentality and that was troubling. We want people to be able to be their true selves within the sport, to be acknowledged and to be heard. So, we established an LGBTIQ+ advisory group and they assisted us through a number of steps which included the Pride Cup.”

Setting a goal of 16 teams for the event, Lacrosse Victoria exceeded expectations with 22 teams registering including ten out of their 16 field clubs.

“Sport needs to be for everyone,” said Kristen. “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or what abilities you have, sport needs to be able to accommodate you.”

Overall, the data from the ‘Free to Exist’ report showed that targeted sports and programs are urgently needed to ensure sport and movement settings do not continue to cause harm and force LGBTIQA+ young people to remove themselves from sport and movement settings.

Sport has the power to positively enrich the lives of a marginalised and disenfranchised group in society but the findings of this report highlight that the time to realise this potential is now.

The full ‘Free to Exist’ report can be accessed via VicHealth’s website here.

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