By: Miriam Alicea, MYX Trainer
Pride Month is about recognizing the positive contributions and talents of the LGBTQ+ community. But what of the members of the community who struggle with having their voices heard, let alone their talents recognized? LGBTQ+ youth are significantly underrepresented in fitness, sports, and competitions. As an LGBTQ+ woman who was once an LGBTQ+ teenager, this speaks to my heart. I was privileged to attend an inclusive, accepting high school where my experience with sports and fitness was positive overall. Unfortunately, that’s not the norm in cities and towns around the country.
As a whole, we’re moving in the right direction for the LGBTQ+ community, but there are areas where we could increase our focus.
One of those areas is LGBTQ+ youth fitness and sports participation.
Often overlooked, LGBTQ+ youth participate much less often than cis students in sports activities. One study by the American Heart Association found “only 14.7% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students compared with 28.5% of heterosexual students met aerobic physical activity guidelines.”
My heart goes out to these students. As a Latina fitness trainer who is also a member of the LGBTQ+ fitness community, I know how difficult it can be to find your place in career and community life. My own experience as a teen in an LGBTQ+ friendly high school was above the norm. I have, however, felt the cold hand of discrimination as an adult.
We shouldn’t lose sight of reality. Homophobia still exists and is often subtle in seemingly “innocent” phrases like “that’s so gay.” Stereotypes affect participation in sports simply because team members are often chosen based on their appearance. Gyms and locker rooms are not known for being comfortable places for all body types, let alone teens who present or identify differently from their peers.
The bottom line is that these young people might want to participate in athletics, but they don’t feel accepted, respected, or even safe. It’s one more reason why LGBTQ+ youth tend to have lower levels of fitness.
Change for the better
As we know, respect begins at home. It’s often not enough to say “I’m LGBTQ+ friendly” or “My kids attend an LGBTQ+ friendly school.” Our kids have a better chance to thrive when we model the respectful, inclusive behavior we want our children (and future community leaders) to duplicate. It’s up to us as leaders to teach respect for anyone making the effort to participate in sports. Encourage the desire to be a fit, healthy, and whole human being.
Looking to get involved?
Every movement begins with just one person. Get involved. Be the change you want to see. Participate in community projects. Support organizations like the You Can Play Project, which works to safeguard everyone who wants to play sports, including LGBTQ+ athletes and coaches. There are many ways to be an ally. Together, we can break down the barriers to LGBTQ+ fitness and acceptance.