As Hong Kong debates the Gay Games, why are they needed at all?
- Discussion in Hong Kong over the city hosting the international sporting event has focused on the money it will generate and its potential to promote inclusion and diversity
- However, the Gay Games are mainly needed because homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are often found in sports, and LGBTQ+ people often feel unsafe or are excluded in sports settings
However, so far, an important point has been missed: the Gay Games are needed because homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, often linked with a culture of toxic masculinity, are readily found in sports, and LGBTQ+ people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other sexual/gender minorities) often feel unsafe or are actively excluded in sports settings.
Instead, these are places where active bullying and discrimination, or more subtle microagression, against LGBTQ+ people take place.
Even among sports audiences, the use of homophobic slurs is sadly common. Unfortunately, football is a field in which homophobia is notoriously prevalent. Football v Homophobia began in Britain before developing into an international initiative opposing homophobia at all levels of football from grass-roots to professional clubs.
Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in sports settings have harmful consequences. They adversely affect LGBTQ+ people’s performance in sports. They make it difficult for LGBTQ+ athletes to come out to their coach and team members.
They not only hinder authentic relationships from being built, but also drastically affect LGBTQ+ people’s performance as they have to divert their attention from performing at their absolute best to hiding who they are and questioning themselves.
This can be especially harmful in competitive settings where LGBTQ+ athletes need to be at their peak and are already facing tremendous stress. Some LGBTQ+ athletes may give up their dreams of joining competitive sports altogether.
Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia make some LGBTQ+ people give up sports altogether. Some LGBTQ+ children may be anxious about physical education classes because of the fear, or actual experiences, of negative treatment. This can have lifelong consequences: the gay child who was bullied in the locker room may grow to hate his sexuality and body and not take up sports throughout his life, which of course has an adverse impact on his health and well-being.
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Everyone should have the right to health and well-being, including LGBTQ+ people.
Some recent research, despite being limited in scope and often debated, has also documented a trend towards greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ athletes in high school and collegiate-level sports in some urban areas in certain countries. Many organisations have been trying to address homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in sports settings at the intrapersonal level as well as with concrete training, regulation and policies.
So, back to my earlier question: why are the Gay Games needed? My answer is that it is because of homophobia in sports and because everyone should have the right to health and well-being. It is in this light that the significance of the Gay Games should be understood.
It shows that, 30 years on, there is still a long way to go when it comes to public understanding of LGBTQ+ issues.
Yiu-tung Suen is assistant professor of the Gender Studies Programme, and founding director of the Sexualities Research Programme, at Chinese University of Hong Kong