Friday, October 2, 2009

Ending Homophobia in Sports: Feel Good Fridays

It is generally accepted that the worst insult you can throw at a man is something that is supposed to insult his masculinity: "pussy, gay, sissy," or some variation thereof. And the "worst thing" you can call a woman? Ugly, manly, lesbian/dyke, butch.

Insults speak volumes about the things we value in our society. In most of the world as we know it today, men are supposed to hate being womanly, women are supposed to hate being manly, and apparently everyone is supposed to hate being gay. Needless to say, this is homophobic, narrow-minded, and wrong-headed.

And if this is what it's like in the "real" world, the normal everyday world of you and me, then it's intensified in the world of competitive sports. Because sport involves feats of physical strength, is often perceived as a man's world, where women's contributions and accomplishments are devalued. (Don't believe me? Compare news coverage of the Winter Olympics 2006, when both the Canadian female hockey team and the Canadian male hockey team won the gold medal. Who got more coverage? I think you know.)

The recent Caster Semenya controversy shows just how brutal the world of sports can be. This South African runner was recently subjected to a humilitating barrage of "gender tests," when officials suspected that she was a man because of her square jaw and "masculine dress." Although it has been confirmed that she is intersex, this does not justify her treatment and the way that a very personal matter (her gender identity and biological sex) were paraded before the world. And the insulting comments that her fellow runners made about her demonstrate the homophobia, sexism, and general gender-nastiness in the world of sports. Caster's case, and the horrible scrutiny that she's been subjected to, are proof of how hard it is to be involved in women's competitive sports. (And let's not even get started talking about female tennis players, and the fact that they're more valued for their short skirts and Playboy pictures than for their amazing talents.)

But this is Feel Good Friday, right? And so far all I've been doing is saying depressing things about the rampant homophobia and sexism in the sports world. So, without further ado/more upsetting back story:

In New Brunswick, two girls on a competitive (and undefeated) ice hockey team came out as lesbians. A few other teams in the league responded viciously, teasing and insulting the two girls during games and via Facebook, and refusing to shake hands with them on the rink. Some people might crumble under this pressure: other girls on the team might get defensive, feel threatened, or become resentful of the unwanted attention.

But the Woodstock High School Lady Thunder did none of these things. Instead, they made rainbow buttons reading "No Homophobia" and pinned them to their jerseys. They did not respond or acknowledge the taunting of other teams. They went to their high school and asked for the support of the Gay-Straight Alliance, who promptly began to attend hockey games with banners and buttons, cheering for WHS Lady Thunder.

Soon, conversations about homophobia in the leagure began to emerge, and several other teams in the leagure started to ask for "No Homophobia" buttons to wear on their jerseys. And now, these awesomely supportive and courageous young women have been awarded with a Human Rights Award from the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission.

Also: The Lady Thunder is possibly the awesomest name I have ever heard for a team.

And just in case that didn't give you a major case of the warm fuzzies, here's another item. Male rugby players in Australia have been involved in This is Oz, a country-wide campaign to end homophobia. This is remarkable not only because rugby is generally considered one of the most aggressive, hyper-masculine, and male-dominated sports around, but because these rugby players are putting their faces to their statements with a very public photo campaign. And they're doing this despite the pressure that might be put on them, as male athletes, to prove that they aren't gay (and therefore "less masculine," although we all know that this is silly). They haven't been coerced into it, and they aren't embarrased to be standing there with signs saying: "Being different makes us strong." These guys are confronting homophobia in the world of sports, and don't care who knows it.

So I say three cheers for atheletes who aren't afraid to be openly gay, regardless of stigma, three cheers for supportive teammates, and three cheers for everyone who is willing to confront homophobia in sports.

Thoughts and comments?

Peace and positivity,

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