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PlayProud: Working Towards Inclusion for LGBTQ+ Youth Athletes

For many young people, the sporting arena and team structures can provide a supportive base to propel them towards their goals - a platform to find joy and engrain perceptions of self-confidence.  However, LGBTQ+ youth have not often been sufficiently afforded the secure space to express themselves on the field. According to the Human Rights Campaign (2019), four out of five LGBQ youth are not open to their coaches about their sexual orientation, and 82% of transgender youth are not out to their coaches about their gender identity.  Furthermore, according to Out in the Fields (2015), “80% of spectators and athletes worldwide have witnessed anti-LGBTQ attitudes in sport.” The above-described lack of trust between LGBTQ+ youth and their coaches is just one of the many limiting mental constructs that result from exclusionary attitudes. Soccer Without Borders (SWB) strives to combat these divisive attitudes by creating a culture of openness in sport, in which all perspectives and voices feel valued and secure.

Integrating LGBTQ inclusion on the field at the first PlayProud conference in St. Lucia

In February 2019 SWB joined eleven other soccer for development organizations for the inaugural PlayProud, a program led by streetfootballworld dedicated to creating a safer and more inclusive space for LGBTQ+ youth in soccer.  This nearly year-long program has held two major conferences where all members have convened - the first of which was hosted by Sacred Sports last April in St. Lucia, and the most recent by DC Scores, this November in Washington D.C.  PlayProud endeavors to make LGBTQ youth feel safe on the soccer field, and a big part of this effort begins with the environment created by coaches. PlayProud strives to equip coaches with the skills and knowledge to ensure an inclusive safe space for all players on and off the field. 

SWB’s Emily Sherman and Lucas Holmes at the second PlayProud conference in Washington DC

Soccer Without Borders Maryland Director, Emily Sherman, and Staffing and Staff Development Manager, Lucas Holmes, have attended each of the two major PlayProud conferences this year to contribute to the discussion and bring back valuable insights to be considered and implemented in SWB programs.  After the most recent conference, Lucas described PlayProud as “a call for authenticity from everyone involved in youth sports, specifically players, parents and coaches. To create a safe and inclusive space for LGBTQ+ youth, we must be proactive, stand up and push ourselves to improve ourselves and everyone around us.”  Emily also praised the event, remarking that “being a part of the first Play Proud cohort was an honor. Lucas and I got to meet and work with many other leaders from football organizations across North American and the Caribbean. Each individual inspired me with their energy and the work that they do both on and off the pitch for LGBTQ+ youth.”  SWB is fortunate to take Emily and Lucas’ experiences on board and we wanted to share four of their key takeaways from the conference that you can consider.


Key Takeaways from the Conference:

  1. LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport is an overwhelming challenge because of how ingrained sexism, homophobia, transphobia and racism are in the culture and legal system of the US and other countries, some which have laws to forbid the existence of LGBTQ+ people.

  2. When we have used the term “inclusion,” LGBTQ+ inclusion is often overlooked because oftentimes sex, gender and sexuality feel taboo to talk about.

  3. LGBTQ+ inclusion is a complex, multifaceted issue.  In order to address this, you must talk about larger topics of racism, discrimination, masculinity/feminity and stereotypes.

  4. Small changes can make a big impact.  For example, if a player sees a LGBTQ+ symbol or hears you say “partner” instead of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” they will immediately know that you see LGBTQ+ people and that you are a safe person with whom they can talk about this topic.

Team building activity on the first day of the Washington DC PlayProud Conference
Discussions around the framework for an act of leadership
Lucas and Emily either side of former professional player, Joanna Lohman after her Q&A Session in DC

Following this most recent PlayProud conference, both Emily and Lucas described how they have shared insights, learned from other attendees and felt increasingly empowered.  Emily emphasized that “At Soccer Without Borders we pride ourselves on being inclusive, and this does not only mean inclusive of different languages, religions, and countries of origin. Many of the students that we work with have fled war or famine or other instability in their home country. Identifying as LGBTQ+ is also a reason for some individuals to seek asylum, because many countries still criminalize these identities and experiences. PlayProud gave me the tools, skills and confidence to have conversations that will make all students feel included, no matter how they identify. Our students have a lot to figure out: a new language, a new community, a new culture. If they are also trying to figure out their gender and sexual identity, then they should know that SWB coaches and teams are a safe space to ask their questions and express their true selves.”


When asked about the PlayProud experience, Lucas described how “PlayProud doesn’t feel like work.”  Rather, it (PlayProud) “fills you with a higher sense of purpose and a deeper sense of belonging.” Lucas remarked, “It’s rare to be able to collaborate with a group of people around a theme that you feel personally connected to.  It’s even more special to find such a diverse group of people who are unconditionally inclusive and supportive; to me, the PlayProud group represents a microcosm of the world we want to live in. It has been a privilege to represent SWB in this group and feel empowered to make SWB more inclusive for everyone.”


Click here to learn more about PlayProud







PlayProud representatives in Washington DC this month

#PlayProud #Inclusion #LGBTQ #HumanRights

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