Heterosexism, homonegativism, and transprejudice are prejudices aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people. These beliefs and actions are common in sport and negatively impact all participants, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This entry discusses common types of prejudices faced by LGBT sport participants, defines related terminology, and notes the effects of biased sport climates.
Heterosexism is a belief system in which it is assumed or expected that all people are heterosexual. In a heterosexist environment, heterosexuality is viewed as the natural or normal sexual orientation. This belief creates the assumption that people are inherently straight (heterosexual), and that those individuals who do not meet this expectation are deviant. As a result, nonheterosexuality is considered strange or abnormal. Heterosexism forms a climate where heterosexuality is privileged or rewarded with high social status and respect not readily granted to nonheterosexuals.
In sport, heterosexism is common. The prevailing silence about the existence of LGBT athletes or coaches renders them invisible. For example, heterosexual privilege is provided when locker rooms are divided by sex. This separation is based on the assumption that through creating all-male and all-female spaces, all sexual innuendos, harassment, or relationships among teammates will be prevented since everyone is expected to be heterosexual. That people in sport tend to only imagine and recognize male athletes as having girlfriends or wives and female athletes solely in relationships with males shows how extensive heterosexism is. Nonheterosexuals participating in heterosexist sport climates may feel excluded from or invisible to their teammates, coaches, or other sport personnel. Heterosexism provides the foundation for climates perceived as unwelcoming for LGBT sport participants.
Homonegativism refers to purposeful negative stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination toward nonheterosexuals, whereas homophobia is an irrational fear of LGBT people. Unlike homophobia, the term homonegativism signifies that the bias against nonheterosexuals often is rooted in personal belief systems and maintains social and political functions. Therefore, the term homonegativism more accurately addresses the social issues embedded in the discrimination that takes place in sport and connects it to other “isms” in sport (e.g., sexism, racism). Examples of homonegativism in sport include name calling, stereotyping athletes, physical violence, bullying, and benching or cutting LGBT athletes from teams. Additionally, coaches may be fired or overlooked for jobs if they are perceived as LGBT.
Often such negative treatment is based on stereotypes equating masculinity in females with being lesbian and femininity in males with being gay. The application of these stereotypes has serious implications, including causing some people to avoid or quit sport. LGBT athletes and coaches in heterosexist or homonegative sport settings often experience high levels of stress and monitor themselves to conceal their sexual identity. Other consequences of homonegativism in sport include a decline in self-confidence, increased anxiety, difficulty focusing, dejection, and decreased athletic performance.
Heterosexism and homonegativism can only continue to function as long as the gender binary exists in sport. This binary acknowledges only two categories: male/masculine and female/feminine. These categories are considered distinct and opposite of one another. This sorting system appears throughout sport. For example, youth sport leagues are divided by gender and some sport uniforms and rules change based on the gender of the participant. Boys are often demeaned through phrases like “You throw like a girl,” which further suggests that boys should throw differently (and better) than girls. Through sport, boys and girls learn how to speak and behave appropriately in relation to their gender. Those who do not conform to these heterosexist rules may encounter homonegative treatment.
One’s gender identity refers to the internal sense of one being a girl or boy, woman or man. For many individuals, gender identity aligns with their outward appearance. However, some people have an identity that is outside of the female–male binary. For transgender individuals, gender identity is not consistent with their biological sex (anatomy), is fluid (changeable), or is perceived as something other than male or female. Intersex individuals are born with anatomical, hormonal, or genetic characteristics of both female and male bodies. Transsexual people intend to undergo or have completed hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery so gender identity and sex are compatible. They go through a transition period in which they begin hormone therapy to make physical changes to their body while they live full-time consistent with their gender identity. During this time, their physical body is not consistent with binary gender conforming bodies. After surgery, and with sustained hormone therapy, transsexual athletes can compete in the gender category consistent with their reassigned sex. All of these trans people challenge the gender binary because, instead of following the belief that one is born into a prestructured gender classification system, these individuals move across the boundaries. Yet, there is no place for trans people in a heterosexist sport environment and they often face transprejudice (bias based on gender identity, also called transphobia). Most sport policies do not include trans and transitioning individuals.
Though the negative effects of heterosexism, homonegativism, and transprejudice persist, they do not describe all sport settings. Some organizations are working to create more inclusive sport climates that do not privilege one particular sexual orientation or gender identity. Many coaches also are working diligently to provide inclusive environments that allow all of their athletes to be successful in and out of the playing arena. More LGBT sportspeople are coming out, or letting others know of their nonconforming sexual orientation or gender identity than in previous decades. That more people are feeling comfortable to do so suggests that, at least in some contexts, the climate of sport is becoming more open and welcoming to diverse people.
- Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity. Seeing the invisible, speaking the unspoken: Addressing homophobia in sport. Retrieved from http://www.caawshomophobiainsport.ca/e/index.cfm
- Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network. (2012). Changing the game: The GLSEN sports project. Available from http://sports.glsen.org
- Griffin, P., & Carroll, H. J. (2010). On the team: Equal opportunity for transgender student athletes. Retrieved from http://www.nclrights.org/site/DocServer/ TransgenderStudentAthleteReport.pdf?docID=7901