Friday, July 31, 2009

How tolerant are the Dutch really? - A study into “homotolerance” in sports

Now and then we hear reports of how homophobic the professional sports world is or how few athletes are actually out, even though we all know that there are plenty of lesbian sports women, especially when it comes to some sports like tennis, soccer or handball.

What we don’t know much about is how things are when it comes to regular non-professional sports environments. How tolerant and accepting are those places? And just how many lesBian women can be found there?

This week a research report was presented about a Dutch study into gay tolerance in sports. The study was conducted by request of Stichting Homosport Nederland, the organisation for everything that is queer in the Dutch sports world.

The report shows a detailed account of the number of non-straight men and women participating in different kind of sports activities, as well as their experiences with gay tolerance and/or homophobia. In addition, the study looked into acceptance and tolerance of queer team mates by straight people.

Acceptance and openness sexual orientation

When it comes to sexual orientation, luckily the majority of queer men and women have no problem with self-acceptance, but they do think there are still plenty of people who do have issues with homosexuality. Lesbians and gay men are much more open about their sexual orientation than bisexuals, this applies to the sports environment, as well as their entire social circle.

The graph below shows the percentage of people of which no one in a certain social category knows about their sexual orientation, divided by gender and sexual orientation.

Social categories in the graph are family, friends & acquaintances, colleagues & fellow students, fellow sport

When we purely focus on the women, you can see that they are doing pretty well, apart from the high percentage of bisexual women who isn’t out at work and especially in the sports environment. In the report possible explanations for are mentioned like the kind of sports bisexuals engage in, as well as their relatively higher age.

To me a much more obvious reason is that there’s probably often less need for bisexuals to come out, especially when they are not currently dating someone of the same sex.

Queer participation in sports
Results show that lesbians and bisexual women play sports and are part of sports clubs as much as straight women (there were differences for men). The only difference found in the kinds of sports was Aerobics, which not surprisingly is much more popular under straight women.

There is a difference in their reasons for playing sports. Lesbians more often than straight women list competitiveness and tension release as why they engage in sports activities.

Interesting to note is that hardly anyone is a member of a specific gay sports club, the main reason for this being that queer men and women don’t feel the need for this (60%) or because they aren’t aware of any gay sports club near their homes (25%).

Acceptance of homosexuality in sports
In general, people are very accepting of homosexuality in the sports environment. However, it really depends on how you define acceptance. 75% of all straight respondents said they had no problem taking a shower with someone who is gay, 80% is ok with their kids having gay trainers, and 71% thinks something should be done about derogatory gay remarks during sports.

However, most people seemed accepting of gays and lesbians, “as long as it wasn’t too visual and obvious.” I am not sure how it is in other countries, but that sounds like the typical Dutch view. Everyone is so very tolerant, as long as they don’t have to see it or deal with too much.

25% of straight respondents took offense to same sex kissing at sports venues (and even as high as 50% were negative about two men kissing). A detail that also isn’t very promising is that those that actually knew of gay men and lesbians at their sports club where less tolerant about same-sex PDA than those who never see any gays.
62% of lesbians think being lesbian is no issue in sports, but figures are much lower for men. In addition, 35% of all queer men say they are used to hearing derogatory gay slang being used during sports events.

Moreover, 25% of queer respondents said they’d witnessed some kind of negative incident to do with sexual orientation. Most often reported incidents were jokes or comments about sexual orientation that were supposed to be funny, but were really offensive.

All in all this study shows promising results, but I think we still have a long way to go. The sports environment seems to be a good reflection of Dutch society as a whole. There is a lot of acceptance and openness when it comes to sexual orientation, but hopefully the next step will be towards normalizing visibility of queer couples in the same way as we view straight couples every day.

This article was first published on eurOut.

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