By Mitch Kellaway
Originally published on Advocate.com August 19 2014 5:38 PM ET
Two recent studies have found shockingly high rates of homophobia within both Australia's professional sports teams as well as in school gym classes and sports activities.
In July a Victoria University study of 2,500 Australians on professional and amateur sports teams found that 85 percent of LGBT respondents had witnessed or experienced harassment or discrimination at a sports game or practice, either as a player or a spectator, reports Agence France-Presse. Seventy-five percent of heterosexual respondents said the same.
Half of LGBT respondents said they had been the direct target of homophobia.
"Casual homophobic language such as jokes and humor is commonly accepted in Australian sport," explained lead researcher Caroline Symons. "Gay slurs are often seen as a very demeaning way to insult someone, regardless of their sexuality."
This month Symons released results of a study she led regarding primary schools, and it found the same high levels of homophobia among youth, reports Australia's Star Observer. Eighty percent of the 400 gay and gender-nonconforming respondents surveyed said they had experienced casual homophobia during gym class or school sports activities.
A quarter of those students said they had been physically abused by classmates during sports practices. In addition, most (over 80 perfent) reported that they felt distressed when hearing language like "you're so gay" tossed around, even if it wasn't directed at them. Sixty percent said they'd been the direct target of homophobic remarks, including "faggot" and "dyke."
Students who feel unwelcome on sports teams often lose out on physical, mental, and social benefits for years to come, said Symons.
"Sport and teamwork can help bind people together," explained Georgie Harman, chief executive of Beyondblue, the mental health organization that funded the study in conjunction with the Victoria government.
"Throwaway lines — whether intended to hurt or not — stay with kids," particularly at ages when are beginning to explore their sexuality and identity, Harman added. "[This] can affect their ability to be open about the feelings they're having."