Taking up a new sport can be daunting for various reasons, but many 2SLGBTQIA+ folks face additional barriers. The gender binary, reinforced through gender-restrictive teams, change rooms and even uniforms, can be a deterrent for non-binary people who would otherwise wish to participate.
Allan Gray is the interim president of Out There Winnipeg, the organizing body behind 15 sports leagues and athletic events for 2SLGBTQIA+ adults and allies. He says the sports leagues and athletics events run through Out There are specifically designed to ensure folks can feel safe and welcomed.
“We as a community don’t want to have to tick one of those boxes for some of our friends,” Gray says. “We support people who may not be comfortable in the stereotypical sports community.”
Dene Guillas, the school equity and inclusion co-ordinator at the Rainbow Resource Centre, highlights the need for representation of 2SLGBTQIA+ people in athletics – something that he heavily promotes in schools.
“A lot of the time, (2SLGBTQIA+ youth) don’t see that visual representation in the sport or the environment it happens in,” he says. Fortunately, the existence of organizations like Out There Winnipeg encourages 2SLGBTQIA+ youth to participate in athletics who may otherwise feel excluded.
As a sports enthusiast himself, Guillas found solace on the basketball court in his youth, saying it was a kind of “therapy.”
“Growing up, I struggled with my identity,” he says. “I didn’t feel right in my body, so I felt out of place everywhere I went. The one place I felt like I actually belonged was the basketball court.”
“If I didn’t have that sport, I don’t know if I would’ve had a lot of interactions with people, because I didn’t feel that connection,” he says.
Though they aim to be as inclusive as possible, Gray says Out There Winnipeg is sometimes at odds with the gendered confines of certain facilities. Something as simple as a lack of gender-neutral change rooms and washrooms can become a barrier.
“Most of our activities are within city-funded community clubs and in schools,” Gray says. “Right now, the city doesn’t have an extensive amount of non-gender-specific washrooms.”
Guillas says including 2SLGBTQIA+ voices within conversations about planning and implementing athletic events is crucial for inclusion.
“If it’s possible, create a committee with those people and those voices, so they can voice what they want,” he says. “That’s going to be a big help.”
Above all, joining a sports league can relieve stress and provide an outlet for social connection.
“When you’re playing a sport, you can just focus on that activity, skill or goal,” Guillas says. “You don’t have to think about your identity, how you’re expressing yourself or what you’re saying.”
Those who wish to join or know more about 2SLGBTQIA+ friendly sports leagues in Winnipeg can visit outtherewinnipeg.ca.
Published in Volume 75, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 24, 2020)