International study of homophobia in sport needs Canadian respondents

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Australia is not only tackling homophobia in sports but they're studying it too.

What's more, the study they've launched was conceived of by a Canadian.

Erik Denison, originally from Vancouver, has lived in Australia for the past six years. He's now the public relations representative for the Bingham Cup, a gay rugby tournament named in honour of the late Mark Bingham, who was one of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 who fought the hijackers during the 9/11 attacks.

In the lead-up to the Bingham Cup tournament in Sydney, five Australian professional sports leagues (cricket, rugby union, rugby league, football, Aussie rules) signed an antihomophobia pact in April.   

"We looked at it…as an opportunity to make social change, hopefully in Australia and around the world," Denison said on the line from Sydney, "which was the genesis of getting all Australian sports to commit to implementing policies to eliminate homophobia, and then send the challenge around the world for other sports to do the same."

Denison said he came up with the idea for a study on homophobia in sport after being constantly asked by media for information on the subject.

The biggest issue in launching the study, called Out on the Fields, was finding funding, but all the international researchers are working on it pro bono because, Denison explained, all of them felt a pressing need for this study.

Researchers from Brunel University (U.K.), Pennsylvania State University and the University of Massachusetts (U.S.), Laval University and the University of Winnipeg (Canada), and Victoria University (Australia) will analyze data collected from an online survey for one of the first large-scale international studies.

Denison said that the main focus of study is to understand why people stay in the closet, and what helps them to come out. He added that they want to find out whether or not people feel safe as spectators. They're also encouraging people to suggest what they think should be done.

They're not just looking for athletes to respond. All LGBT and straight people are welcome to respond (by mid-July). More female respondents are also needed. 

"It would be really interesting to compare the results and see whether perhaps maybe people who are straight think that the situation is worse than even gay people do or maybe it's the opposite but the results will be really telling and I think that will help particularly those who are straight get a better understanding of the issue from the LGBTI community's point of view."

They're also looking for respondents from diverse age groups so they can compare the data between generations.

Denison said they're particularly interested in LGBT people who haven't played team sports.

"There's a lot of people in our [gay] community who gravitate towards more individualized sports and we're curious about why that is and what drives them to individualized sports as opposed to team sports, particularly when they're young."

They study won't be delving into transgender-specific issues, not due to a lack of interest but more because of the complexity it would add to a study on sexuality. Denison said that gender issues in sports, from gendered locker rooms to teams, require a study separate from sexual orientation.

They will be devoting attention to physical education classes in schools.

"A lot of the research now is showing that P.E. classes are particularly challenging for LGBTI students and that's where a lot of people, myself included, get turned off sport, because it's not necessarily a team environment, it's just a class environment."

To fill out the survey, visit the Out on the Fields website. Preliminary results are expected to be released prior to the Gay Games in Cleveland, Ohio, in August, before the Bingham Cup in Sydney.

Here's a video that South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby players Sam and Thomas Burgess made to raise awareness about the study.
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