Melbourne Mustangs ice hockey players Damien Bright (left) and Steve Belic with head coach Maxime Langelier-Parent (right), who participated in the study on LGBT pride games conducted by Monash University

New research published today has found that sports teams that hold pride games use nearly 40% less homophobic languages that teams that have not. The study from Monash University is the first of its kind to measure the impacts of pride games/rounds on homophobic language in sport. Since the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers held the first LGBT pride game in 2013, the events have been adopted by all teams in the NHL, all teams in the MLB, MLS, by numerous NFL/NBA teams, and by teams/leagues globally.

The study led by Australia’s Monash University found 38% of players on teams that have held pride games self-reported using homophobic slurs such as ‘fag’ in the past ‘two-weeks’ compared to 61% of players on the teams that have not held these games. The research was supported by the Australian Government, You Can Play, and Amnesty International.

“Pride games have proven lucrative to sports teams through ticket and merchandise sales and studies show they improve a team’s reputation and help attract sponsors. We were interested in whether pride games help reduce homophobic language and make sports more welcoming for LGBT people” said lead author, Erik Denison, from Monash University’s School of Social Sciences.

The study collected data from players on all eight teams in the semi-professional Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL), which features many overseas players looking to gain experience/build their profile with 26.4% of players are from the USA or Canada. The research compared homophobic language use and attitudes toward gay people of the players on the two teams that have held pride games with those of players on the six teams that have not held the games.

Additional Findings

• Players on pride games teams were significantly less likely to report hearing their teammates use homophobic language in the past two weeks (54.1% vs. 69.3%);

• There were no differences in factors which often explain differences in homophobic language use, such as homophobic attitudes and the religious orientations of players;

• No (0%) hockey players identified as gay or bisexual (note: 15% of youth identify as LGBT);

• Despite the total lack of gay players and their frequent use of homophobic language, 91.6% of players believed “a gay player would feel ‘very’ welcome on my team.”

“We are surprised elite adult hockey players don’t understand using this language would made a gay player feel unwelcome. We believe combining the games with clear communication about the harm caused using this language to gay or bisexual players is key to stopping this behaviour” said Denison

The effects of this language are often unseen or fly under the radar as “part of the game” despite being flagged as a critical public health issue. This is because homophobic language in sport is harmful to the mental and physical health of gay and bisexual people, who consistently describe sport as the social environment they are most likely to feel unsafe and unwelcome. LGB youth report attempting suicide in the ‘past year’ at rates more than four-times higher than heterosexual youth (5.4% vs. 23%) while transgenderyouth report attempting suicide at nearly six-times higher rates than cisgender youth (5.5% vs. 34.6%). The frequent use of homophobic language in sport is also believed to be the key factor in the low rates of sport participation amongst gay and bisexual males. Studies by the CDC and other public health agencies find gay teenage males play team sports at half the rate of their straight peers. Many athletes also hide their sexuality because they fear discrimination.

By creating a safe environment in sport for LGBT participants, better mental and physical health outcomes can be achieved.

Maxime Langelier-Parent, coach of the Melbourne Mustangs who pioneered the Pride Game in the Australian Ice Hockey League states  

When boys begin to play hockey or other similar sports, they hear older males use homophobic language constantly. They start using this language to prove they are tough and it becomes a habit they pass to the next generation.

When I have used this language in the past it was to fit in with the other players. Conformity with the team and the coach is really important in hockey. I don’t think players mean to be harmful or hurtful but they don’t understand the impact this behaviour can have on others around them. No one told me that this language can push a teammate to harm themselves or worse. I think we need to be more direct and share this information when we educate players about why they need to stop using homophobic language.

I think pride games help to short-circuit the vicious cycle of this language being passed from one generation to the next. We obviously need to do a lot more education to change this culture. I think we need to start educating and changing the culture in youth sport where boys begin using homophobic and sexist language and it becomes a habit that is hard to break. That is probably why the pride games helped to reduce the amount of language that is used by players but it didn’t stop completely. I think pride games are just one step of many that we will need to take to change the culture in hockey and other similar sports.

With this research in hand, queersport hopes to see the gap between the LGBTQIA+ and sporting community closed, especially through community organisations such as Pride Cup (www.pridecup.org.au), Proud2Play (www.proud2play.org.au) and Pride In Sport (http://prideinsport.com.au/).