Give LGBT youth a sporting chance by tackling prejudice – UPDATED

LAST WEDNESDAY: former Aston Villa and Everton midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who resigned from professional football last September, announced he is gay.

Thomas Hitzlsperger came out as gay after retiring

No other professional footballer currently playing in this country has had the courage to do the same.

Hitzlsperger said there is “a long way to go” before there will be an  openly gay man playing in a top league. He explained:

‘The players concerned have not dared to declare their inclinations because the world of football still sees itself … as a macho environment.’

Robbie Rogers left Leeds as he came out

He echoed the words of former Leeds striker Robbie Rogers, who also came out as he retired from the game last year. Last month he said he said he has not been contacted by any closeted footballers since he came out, because

‘they are terrified to reveal their sexuality.’

Neither of the footballers who have recently come out is British (Thomas is German, Robbie American). But their example may encourage others to do the same, (SEE UPDATE BELOW) just as Tom Daley announcing on Youtube his relationship with a man has inspired Brazilian swimmer Ian Matos to come out despite advice against it from his management.

ON FRIDAY: The Rev Dr Giles Fraser, an Anglican vicar, spoke of the problem of homophobia on BBC Radio 4’s morning reflection, Thought For The Day. He spoke not only of football, but also of how religion plays a part in this prejudice, and how some countries such as Uganda, Russia and now Nigeria still criminalise and demonise homosexuality.

You can listen to his reflection here (three minutes):

Or read the full text here.

YESTERDAY: The youth charity Metro published the first findings of its research into the lives of young people who identify at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning their sexuality or gender identity (LGBTQ):

Youth Chances: the experiences of LGBTQ young people in England.

To date, the five-year ground-breaking research project has surveyed more than 7,000 young people aged 16-25, making it the biggest, most representative and robust survey of its kind. The project has also surveyed commissioners of services for young people and relevant service providers across England.

It reveals the high levels of discrimination, abuse and mental health issues that young LGBTQ people still face despite progress towards legal equality in England in recent years.

Key findings

1.  Discrimination against LGBTQ people in general is still common, confirmed by the higher levels of discrimination, and disadvantage that young people experience.

2.  LGBTQ young people are substantially less accepted in their local community than their heterosexual, non-trans counterparts particularly in religious organisations and sport.

3. They experience significantly higher levels of verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

4.  Nearly 1 in 10 of LGBTQ young people (8%) have had to leave home for reasons relating to their sexuality or gender identity.

5. Most young LGBTQ people feel that their time at school is affected by hostility or fear, with consequences such as feeling left out, lower grades and having to move schools. Most report that their school supported its pupils badly in respect of sexuality or gender identity.

6.  Schools also neglect areas that are known to be public health concerns. Sex and relationships education is not inclusive of LGB relationships and does not provide young people with the emotional and sexual health information they need. This is a particular concern for young gay and bisexual men who are at higher risk of STIs and HIV.

7.  LGBTQ young people experience less discrimination at university and work, which are also rated as environments that are much more tolerant and supportive than school.

8.  LGBTQ young people report significantly higher levels of mental health problems including depression and anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. High rates of poor mental health were found in the whole sample, presenting a concerning picture in the youth population at large.

9. Trans young people face the greatest levels of disadvantage and discrimination and report lower overall satisfaction with their lives. 36% of trans respondents agreed with the statement  ‘In most ways my life is close to my ideal’, compared to 47% of LGBQ respondents and 51% of heterosexual non-trans respondents.

10.  It is clear that the needs of LGBTQ young people for support and help are great yet only a minority of areas in England have services addressing the specific needs of young LGBTQ people and there is little evidence of local service commissioning for the specific needs of LGBTQ young people.

The authors challenge us as parents, carers, teachers, youth workers and concerned citizens, to respond:

‘Our young people are badly served. We hope that the comprehensive evidence provided here leads to action.’

The clear message from the young people surveyed is that there is much work ahead to ensure that LGBTQ young people are afforded the same life chances as their peers.

TODAY: How can you help?

  • Support your local services that support LGBTQ youth. In Liverpool, my adopted home city, they include GYRO (gay youth ‘r’ out), the Michael Causer Foundation and the Armistead Centre. Donate money or time, or simply find out what they do and let them know it’s appreciated.
  • Ask your local schools what they are doing to challenge homophobia and transphobia. If they don’t know how to do this in an age appropriate way, put them in touch with your local support agencies.

Challenging prejudice is everybody’s business, not jut those who are affected. No-one knows exactly how many people are LGBTQ as not enough people are asking appropriate questions and too few feel safe enough to answer honestly. LGBTQ young people will enjoy better, more equal life chances the more positive adult role models can show them they are not alone, and that a happy, healthy life and career can be theirs too.

In sport, religion, and education, there is still much to be done. Be a supporter of LGBT youth today and give them a sporting chance for a better future!

UPDATE Wednesday 15th January 2014: Breaking news that British footballer Liam Davis decides to come out as gay at the beginning of his career, saying:

‘I personally hope that over the next 10 years I’m not the only gay footballer out there’.

It’s statistically unlikely that he is, so let’s hope he starts a trend for greater openness and acceptance of diversity in ‘the beautiful game’.

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