Društvo DIH and Out in Slovenija in Copenhagen!
During the third week of 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 Ljubljana-based NGO Out in Slovenija, which promotes involvement in sport within the queer community, a team of four badminton players flew together to the northen country. The week was not all about competition however – though the Slovenian team did bring back four medals – as the team learnt a lot about themselves and community.
Notably, this trip wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the CEEYOUsport program, organised by the European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation (EGLSF). The goal of this program is to build a stronger network of LGBTQIA+ sports clubs in the Central and Eastern European (EEC) region and facilitate effective intersectional cooperation among LGBTQIA+ sports clubs, their leaders, and volunteers. You can read a description of this great program here: https://www.eglsf.info/activities/projects/ceeyousport/.
Back to Copenhagen. On the first day we attended a day long Sport Leader Conference hosted by the former European deputy, Ulrike Lunacek, an open lesbian. She started by saying that in the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, athletes should not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. We agree on this principle, but we know all too well that this is not the reality 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 to physical and mental health. It can help you build confidence about your mind and your body. It is also a great way to socialize and to make friends. Sport, when you can practice it safetly, can help you build your identity. Sadly, early bad experiences in sport can be a lifetime burden.
LGBTQIA+ inclusion in sport is difficult though, in part due to gender stereotypes: “If you’re gay, you are not a real man, so you cannot play with us because we play between men”. The same goes for women. This is the general idea underpinning a lot of behaviors in sport. So, how does this apply on a daily basis? What does the exclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in sport look like?
It starts with language. Too often we hear queer people saying they quit sport as a teenager because they heard slurs degrading LGBTQIA+ people. Trying to practice sport in an environment that talks negatively 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 slurs is a valid form of expression.
Another example is the difficulty of getting sponsors when you are queer athlete. Things might be changing but it is still not as easy as for a cisgender straight athlete.
How do we tackle LGBTQIA+phobia in sport? The conference gave us some answers:
– Using inclusive language: Calling out people at an early age to prevent the use of homophobic and transhpobic slurs. This goes for coaches and teammates.
– 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. LGBTQIA+phobias must be forbidden and reprimanded. This needs to be understood 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 parents, sport professionals, and others when you can. Daily activism is one way to tackle these behaviors.
Later the same day, a great speech 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 provide counselling to any organization that wants to be more inclusive to trans people, focusing 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 LGBTQIA+ sport clubs still relevant if we tend to have more inclusive sport clubs generally?
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: 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 LGBTQIA+ people in their clubs?
A: 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 in ideas to use back home in Slovenia.
The following day, the Human Rights Conference was held which covered various topics such as the impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQIA+ community, issues & solutions for LGBTQIA+ refugees such as forced migration, Transnational partnerships in the time of COVID-19, ensuring decriminalisation of same-sex relationships, and the role of Europe in LGBTQIA+ inclusion at home and abroad.
You can watch these interesting speeches through the recorded live streams here: https://copenhagen2021.com/live/.
Then, the next three days in Copenhagen were filled with 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 Slovenija got one bronze and one silver medal! Those medals were definitely the cherry on top of the cake!
We got a free day on Saturday to visit the beautiful city of Copenhagen. I think my best memory of us is marching during World Pride and visiting the city on a boat tour with a 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 all belonged to the alphabet mafia that supports us. Together, we are stronger. Pride, love, and respect forever.