We are rapidly entering an era where is it becoming more and more acceptable to be openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning, and two-spirited. Members from the trans community are also making gains in terms of rights and representation; recently a hotline specializing in trans issues has even opened in Canada. Whereas there is progress being made for ensuring equal and equitable rights, there is still some backlash from pockets of society.
Whenever a professional athlete decides to come out of the closet (or to publically disclose their LGBTQ status), there are definitely mixed reactions from different segments of society. From the LGBTQ community, there is definitely jubilation. Representation in different institutions is a very important thing for all minorities, whether they are racialized or gender & sexual minorities. Queer youth need role models as well, and having ‘out’ athletes helps to inform queer youth that professional sports are open to them if they so want. Representation is about tearing down barriers for entry. When said barriers are torn down, there is more room for people to exercise their agency; there is more freedom because there are more viable options for careers, leisure, recreation, hopes, and aspirations. The world discloses itself to us by means of the choices we have. For most of my life and a good part of my adult life, I never thought that marriage would be an option for me. In 2005, Canada made gay marriage universally legal, and codified the constitutional right for gays to marry. An option that I never thought I would have has been readily available to me for the last several years, should I choose to act on it. Similarly, queer youth with a penchant for athleticism need to know that professional sports are an option for them as well; they do not have to choose to be who they are and having a career in a sport they are passionate about.
Potential backlash is a serious deterrence for athletes who may wish to come out. There is still social stigma associated with being LGBQT because there are harmful stereotypes associated with being as such. A gay man, who otherwise identifies as masculine may feel that masculinity as compromised because of the stereotypes surrounding gay men and effeminate mannerisms. Likewise, otherwise feminine women may feel like they will be stereotyped as ‘plaid-wearing’, ‘butch’ lesbians. When the entire purpose of coming out is to take command of one’s self-identity on one’s own terms, the stigma surrounding harmful stereotypes acts as an antithesis; one takes command of their self-identity only to be found powerless again when teammates, media, and society at large proliferates these harmful stereotypes. It takes the empowering aspect of coming out and attempts to negate it. The result is that far less athletes choose to come out, and instead remain silent. That is certainly their choice—but if a choice is heavily informed by the negative repercussions, the ‘goal posts’ have be moved by outside forces. The choice has been severely constricted. The second wave of feminism coined the phrase “the personal is political”—meaning that events that transpire in personal lives have a legitimate presence in the public arena. Likewise, the political is also personal: disruptive and harmful dialogues can have an extraordinary effect on people’s lives.