More than 45 percent of people are not ‘out’ in mainstream sports and many shy away from team games for fear of harassment, according to a new study on the GLBT experience in sport.

The first study of its kind, Come Out To Play was conducted by Victoria University and Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria and sets out recommendations for greater inclusion in amateur sports.

“Sport plays a significant role in Australian society; however, it is a place where LGBT Australians are largely silent and invisible,” the study says.

Victoria University lead researcher Dr Caroline Symons told Southern Star it’s not all bad news.

“Fifty percent of people did say their mainstream sports club was welcoming so that’s good news,” she said.

The report — launched today by VicHealth — surveyed 307 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

The findings show male respondents were less likely to play team sports than women and more likely to be out in individual rather than team sports.

Overall, 41.5 percent percent of respondents (mostly female) reported they had experienced verbal homophobic harassment at some time during involvement with sport and 87 percent said that experience had affected them “in some way”.

Symons said the study mirrors international research on the subject but also highlights a unique ‘blokey’ sporting culture in Australia.

“Both implicit discrimination that results from ‘hetero-normative’ attitudes and explicit discrimination that causes LGBT sportspeople to remain in the closet, become isolated and essentially silenced, have shaped a circle of silence on this topic,” the report says.

Twenty-six percent of male participants and almost 10 percent of female participants said there were sports they would like to play but did not because of their sexuality.

Transgender respondents also reported high levels of sexism.

Although state and federal legislation prohibit harassment and discrimination based on sexuality, only 12 percent said their mainstream sports clubs had inclusion policies.

The study recommends further research is conducted in the area and calls on sports clubs to take a more proactive attitude towards GLBT inclusion.

The research was funded by VicHealth, Victoria University and the Asia Pacific Outgames Legacy Fund.

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