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More than half of non-binary Canadian youth in sport witness discrimination: SFU

Click to play video: 'More than half of non-binary Canadian youth in sport witness discrimination, SFU report finds'
More than half of non-binary Canadian youth in sport witness discrimination, SFU report finds
New research from Simon Fraser University has found that a majority of non-binary youth in Canada are avoiding team sports due to discrimination. Lead author of the report Martha Gumprich shares more on the report's findings and their significance in a Wed. Nov. 8, 2023 interview. – Nov 9, 2023

More than half of non-binary youth in Canada are avoiding team sports due to discrimination, with only 11 per cent of non-binary youth currently participating, new research from Simon Fraser University has found.

According to the first-of-its-kind 2023 Canadian Non-Binary Youth in Sport Report, 66 per cent of non-binary youth have avoided joining an organized team sport because they would have to play on a gendered men’s or women’s team, with four in five fearing locker room layouts.

More than half the participants who currently play team sports have also witnessed discriminatory comments, and more than 16 per cent have witnessed physical harassment because of a person’s gender as well, the study found.

“We see in our numbers that there is a lot of exclusion and discrimination occurring in sport,” lead author Martha Gumprich told Global News.

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“We know that physical activity is can improve someone’s mental and physical health, and this is especially important for the LGBTQ+ community. As we know, they have worse mental health outcomes than those who are heterosexual or cisgender. By making sport safer for everyone, everyone benefits.”

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Gumprich and Nicola Hare of ANKORS Trans Connect analyzed data from the Understanding Affirming Communities, Relationships and Networks study, which surveyed youth between 15 and 29 across the country, 2,513 of whom identified as non-binary. Non-binary also includes people who are genderqueer, third gender, gender fluid, agender, or those with trans experience.

The authors then held focus group sessions with non-binary youth in the East and West Kootenays to come up with solutions for the barriers they face in sports. The good news, Gumprich said, is that many of those barriers are preventable.

“We wanted to include solutions that can be put in as soon as tomorrow for many organizations. Only one of them requires money, which is changing changerooms to have single stalls, and recognizing that that can be a barrier, we provided alternative solutions as well.”

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In the event gender-neutral stalls aren’t feasible, the report proposes signage that reinforces respect and safety, specifying that while changerooms may be gender-labelled, “harassment of any kind will not be tolerated.”

Other solutions include allowing youth athletes to choose the gendered team they want to play on, creating co-ed teams, and dividing teams by competitiveness rather than gender in physical education classes. The report also encourages better education on diverse genders and sexualities, use of people’s pronouns and preferred names, consequences for those who violate inclusion rules, and intervention when someone is being harassed.

“We know that change is not going to happen overnight and it will take time, but that time is worth it,” Gumprich said. “We hope everyone reads this report and sees the value in making these changes.”

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According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes against the 2SLGBTQ+ community have increased, with those targeting sexual orientation spiking 64 per cent between 2019 and 2021.

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A 2021 study by Egale Canada further found 62 per cent of surveyed 2SLGBTQ+ students felt unsafe at school compared to 11 per cent of their cisgender heterosexual peers. Seventy-nine per cent of polled of trans students who had been the victims of physical harassment also reported teachers and staff were ineffective in addressing it.

In Alberta and B.C., protests were been held against SOGI 123 — Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in schools — a set of resources for teachers who want to create safe and inclusive classrooms for kids of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Gumprich said SFU report’s findings are particularly relevant in an environment where LGBTQ+ rights are under attack. While there’s been some previous research on transgender participation on sports, there has been no research on participation rates and experiences of non-binary youth in organized team sports in Canada, they said.

“The politicization of this topic is the exact reason why we needed these numbers. We needed proof of the experiences of people in sport, particularly non-binary youth in sport,” they explained.

“With these numbers, we can make change … now that we have numbers, we can share people’s stories and make real change in sport.”

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