As a teenager James Lolicato wasn’t sure why sporting environments made him feel uncomfortable.
“I wasn’t openly gay and it was such a confusing time, I’d be scared whenever physical education class came around,” he told the Star Observer.
“I remember being at the swimming pool and someone yelled out ‘homo’ in front of everyone, and wasn’t pulled up about it – that still sticks with me today.”
Lolicato and his partner Ryan Storr have just launched Proud2Play, a non-profit aimed at encouraging younger sexual and gender diverse people to participate in sport.
Despite recent high profile LGBTI-inclusive sporting events like the AFL’s Pride Game, Lolicato said no one has been talking about queer children aged 14 – 24 in community sport.
He added that even when homophobic language is brought up on the field, kids are often left to their own devices and nothing is done about it.
“When Ryan and I talked about it, we had a few tears, and then decided to do something to change the environment,” he said.
Behind the scenes images of our new Proud Stories :) thankyou to all those who helped out! Can't wait to see result pic.twitter.com/HQ3j6VAxHE
— Proud2Play (@Proud2playinc) September 2, 2016
Half the Proud2Play team was at the Pride shield match today! The whole team will be at Etihad tonight, say hello :) pic.twitter.com/BtKHtiP1ik
— Proud2Play (@Proud2playinc) August 13, 2016
Lolicato said Proud2Play will aim to improve sporting environments for sexual and gender diverse young people in three ways: through education, a buddy program, and a proud activity program.
“We’re going to visit community sport clubs and speak to them about how they can be more inclusive,” he said.
“Even around things as little as pronouns – a lot of sporting clubs mightn’t know about respecting a trans person’s preferred pronouns.”
Younger people aged 14 – 24 will also be able to log in to the group’s website and talk about what sport they would like to play, with volunteers ready to respond and organise activities and involvement.
Proud2Play will also partner with sport organisations and their players, bringing them out to play with younger LGBT people who aren’t comfortable trying out a sport in their local teams or in school.
“The AFL’s Pride Game was a great initiative and raised awareness but a lot of community sporting groups aren’t hearing about what’s happening on that top level,” Lolicato said.
“The strides they’re making on the top level are huge, but we want people to know all the way down to the community level.”
To get involved or to find out more visit Proud2Play.