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What does it Mean to be LGBTQ+ Inclusive in the Sports and Recreational Space?

In the pursuit of inclusivity and a sense of community, group sports and recreational activities have emerged as powerful agents of change for LGBTQ+ individuals. These spaces not only promote physical well-being but also have a profound impact on mental health outcomes and a sense of belonging.

In this article, we’ll dive into the ways in which sports and recreational activities foster a supportive environment, build social connections, and empower LGBTQ+ individuals. Additionally, we will explore real-life examples from well-known LGBTQ+ athletes whose mental health journeys have been positively influenced by community engagement.

Creating supportive environments

Sports and recreational activities provide LGBTQ+ individuals with a sanctuary of acceptance and support. An Out In Sports 2021 study found that a remarkable 82% of LGBTQ+ respondents felt a heightened sense of support and acceptance in these inclusive spaces. More, 25% of athletes felt that their coming out experience to their teammates was a “perfect” or “near perfect” experience.

This supportive environment is instrumental in bolstering mental well-being, as it encourages individuals to embrace their authentic selves without fear of judgment or discrimination.

For example, Megan Rapinoe, a prominent LGBTQ+ athlete, American soccer player for the National Women’s Soccer League and the winner of the Best Women’s FIFA Player in 2019, has spoken openly about the positive impact of community in her life. “I’ve always been around all these other super confident, very successful female athletes, and we allow ourselves space to be however we are,” she told Harvard Business Review in an interview.

By actively engaging in sports (primarily soccer) and surrounding herself with accepting teammates, Rapinoe found solace and a strong support system that contributed to her mental well-being.

Building social networks

Sports and recreational activities go beyond physical exercise—they serve as catalysts for building robust social networks within the LGBTQ+ community. suggests Googling queer teams or group activities in your area, especially for those looking to grow their LGBTQ+ friend group. These types of teams can help folks find friends who understand their unique experiences, creating an invaluable support system that combats isolation and fosters a sense of belonging.

Adam Rippon, the first openly gay American figure skater to compete in the Winter Olympics and a Bronze medalist, highlighted the importance of community and friendship in his mental health journey. In particular, he and fellow U.S. Winter Olympian Gus Kenworthy formed a strong friendship at the Winter Olympics in 2018, helping both of them become strong role models for the LBGTQ+ community back home.

Mental health benefits

Participating in sports and recreational activities has been associated with improved mental health outcomes for LGBTQ+ individuals. While there is abundant research on how participation in team sports reduces depression and anxiety for the general population, specific research from Psychology in the Schools looked at LGBTQ populations to see if that reduction was seen in this population. It was! The supportive and inclusive nature of these activities contributes to reduced social isolation, increased self-esteem, and a greater sense of purpose.

It isn’t all roses, though…

Of course, it isn’t all positive news when it comes to openly gay people or members of the LBGTQ+ community playing sports. Take Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by the National Football League (NFL), for instance.

He retired early from the Canadian Football League (CFL) due to mental health issues, many of them stemming from his coming out in the professional league. He had formerly come out to his classmates and teammates at the University of MIssouri, and was met with positivity.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t always his experience in the professional spotlight. And a positive experience isn’t what many openly gay players find. Less LBGTQ+ middle school and high schoolers play sports, many of them citing concerns around social norms and discrimination on teams, rather than disinterest in sports themselves.

The good news, though, is that you don’t have to be a professional athlete or even a member of the LGBTQ+ community to make a difference here. Teammates, coaches, and even fans all contribute to the feeling of being welcomed into a community––and gay or not, the physical and mental health benefits that come from sports and recreational activities are beneficial.

After all, sports and recreational activities are more than just games or hobbies; they serve as beacons of hope, acceptance, and empowerment. By creating supportive environments, building social connections, and promoting self-expression, these activities contribute significantly to better mental health outcomes. Through the stories of influential LGBTQ+ figures like Megan Rapinoe, Adam Rippon, and Michael Sam, we witness the transformative impact of community engagement.

As we continue to champion inclusivity, let us recognize the profound influence of group sports and activities in creating a more mentally and physically healthy LGBTQ+ community.


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