Why Are LGBT Student Athletes Overwhelmingly Staying Closeted?

groundbreaking reportPlay to Win: Improving the Lives of LGBTQ Youth in Sports, detailing the experiences of LGBTQ student-athletes, according to a new study from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation and the University of Connecticut. The report analyzes responses to sports-related questions by more than 12,000 young people, ranging in age from 13 to 17, and from all 50 states and Washington D.C., who participated in the online 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey.

The results reveal a stark reality: despite the growing visibility of LGBTQ athletes, coaches, and officials, and the progress being made toward inclusion in professional and collegiate sports, participants in youth sports continue to fear discrimination from their very own coaches and teammates—and are overwhelmingly choosing to remain in the closet.

The study found these overwhelming results:

  • 80 percent of LGBQ teenagers and 83 percent of transgender teenagers are not out to their coaches;
  • 41 percent of transgender boys, 34 percent of transgender girls and 31 percent of non-binary youth never feel safe in the locker room;
  • Only 24 percent of LGBTQ youth say they play a school sport, compared to 68 percent of a national non-LGBTQ sample.

However, while LGBTQ youth who participate in sports are still experiencing challenges at school, they report lower levels of feelings of worthlessness and depression and feel safer in their classrooms than their non-sports-playing LGBTQ peers. This illuminates the important role sports can play in building confidence and community.

Here is what teens are saying about why they remain closeted:

“I was bullied by coaches and attacked by my teammates”

“I don’t feel safe in the locker room”

“I would need to prove my masculinity to my teammates — that isn’t worth how much I loved playing sports”

“The guys on sports teams… call everything they don’t like ‘gay’”

“I don’t know which team I’d be placed into — the girls team or the boys team. In addition, my parents would find out if I were placed into a boys team and I’d be forced to come out to them”

The full results of the survey can be found here.

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