Društvo DIH and Out in Slovenija in Copenhagen!
During one week in August, Rémi, our ESC volunteer, had the opportunity to fly to Denmark, Copenhagen. Indeed, an LGBTI+ sport competition was happening: the EuroGames. With the help of the association Out in Slovenija, a NGO based in Ljubljana which promotes sport for queer people, a team of four badminton players flew together to the northen country. This week was not all about playing sports though. Even though Slovenia brought back four medals to the country, this week has taught us a lot.
First, this trip wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the CEEYOUsport program handled by the EGLSF (Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation). The goal of this program is to build a stronger network in the CEE region (central and eastern europe). By setting up this program, EGLSF expects to support the establishment of a strong network and effective intersectional cooperation among LGBTI+ sports clubs, their leaders and volunteers operating in the CEE region. You can read a description of this great program here: https://www.eglsf.info/activities/projects/ceeyousport/.
Back to Copenhagen. On the first day of the week there, we attended a day long Sport Leader Conference, hosted by the former European deputy and openly lesbian Ulrike Lunacek. She starts by saying that in the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, athletes shall not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. We agree on this principle but we know too well this is not what is happening in local clubs. That is why this conference is necessary. This conference helped us understand how, as potential sport leaders, we can be more inclusive.
One important thing to know is that sport is a great ally of physical and mental health. It helps you build confidence towards your mind and your body. It is a great way to socialize and to make friends. Sport, when you can practice it safely, can help you build your identity. Sadly, early bad experiences in sport can be a lifetime burden.
LGBTI+ inclusion in sport is difficult though. The main reason is linked to gender stereotypes. “If you’re gay, you are not a real man, so you canno’t play with us because we play between men”. Same goes for women. This is the general idea that underlies a lot of behaviors in sport. How does this apply on a daily basis? How does the exclusion of LGBTI+ people in sport take form?
It starts with language. Too often we hear queer people saying they quit sport as a teenager because they could hear slur words denigrating LGBTI+ people. Trying to practice sport in an environment that talks down about your identity is a hard thing to do. And when coaches do not reprimand this type of behavior, it strengthens the idea that using these slur words is valid, thus I am not legitimate being here.
Other example is the difficulty to get sponsors when you are queer athlete. Things might be changing recently but it is still not as easy as it is for a cis straight athlete.
How do we tackle LGBTI+phobia in sport then? The conference gave us some answers:
– Using inclusive language, goes for coaches and teammates. Calling out at an early age people to stop using homophobic and transhpobic slur.
-Creating queer role models in sport as it will show that it is possible to be queer and to be an athlete.
-Reviewing the general policies of the clubs. LGBTI+phobias must be forbidden and reprimanded and it needs to be understood and signed by every member of the club.
-Training coaches to be more inclusive: breaking down their stereotypes is the way to go. Showing inclusive leadership is important.
–Educate people, parents, sport professionals every time you can. Daily activism is one way to tackle these behaviors.
Later the same day, a great intervention by Simon Croft from Gender Intelligence was done. The Gender Intelligence Group is recognized as the global leader in gender diversity and inclusive leadership training for organizations. They basically provide counseling to any organization that wants to be more inclusive towards trans people. They focus mostly on sport organizations.
Audience members and those watching the event streamed live had questions regarding sport and queer people. They were answered by different speakers.
Q: Are LGBTI+ sport clubs still relevant if we tend to have more inclusive general sport clubs?
A: Of course, for two reasons. First, we are not there yet. Safe places to practice sport and safe environments are still very relevant. Besides, if queer people meet, get along and decide to do sport together, what’s stoping them? When you share a common background, it is easier to get along and gather around sport. Cis straight people do that, why not us?
Q: Why is it so hard to come out in sport as an athlete?
A: by Michael Gunning (Professional swimmer): There is still a lot of stigma around sexual orientation in professional sport and you can be scared of the clubs reactions, losing your support from fans, from your sponsors etc. But in the end, it’s you, you have to be yourself. I have definitely become a better athlete after coming out!
Q: Should the EU or countries block fundings for countries/associations who fails to protect LGBTI+ people in their clubs?
A: by Ulrike Lunacek: Sport regulation is at a national level, governments need to act. I don’t believe 100% in cutting fundings for these failing associations, but more in funding more awareness programs!
We ended the day by a series of different workshops on how to use the knowledge we gathered during the day. It was an opportunity for everyone to share their own experiences and testimonies. This Sport Leader Conference was a real success and gave us a lot of confidence to use back home in Slovenia.
The following day was held the Human Rights Conference which covered various topics such as the impact of COVID19 on the LGBTI+ community, the landscape for LGBTI+ refugees and forced migration – issues & solutions, Transnational partnerships in the time of COVID19, ensuring decriminilisation off same-sex relations, the role of Europe for LGBTI+ inclusion at home and abroad etc.
You can lucklily go over those interesting speeches through the recorded live streams here : https://copenhagen2021.com/live/.
Then, the next three days in Copenhagen were three days of badminton competition for us. We got to play in a safe environment, surrounded by queer people, we met incredible folks, had a lot of fun, and even brought back four medals! Tina from Out in Slovenjia got one bronze and one silver medal! Those medals were definitely the cherry on the cake!
With team Slovenia, we got a free day on Saturday to visit this beautiful city. I think the best memory of us is marching for World Pride and visiting the city on a boat tour with this hilarious drag queen as the guide. Jokes about the straights, jokes about the gays, jokes about the lesbians, everyone got served, tea was spilled and Copenhagen got visited by a bunch of queer people on water. We belonged all together to this alphabet mafia that supports us all the way. Together, we are stronger. Pride, love and respect forever.