Setting the scene...
The following scenario explores issues that can arise when dealing with questions relating to homosexuality in sport. As you read through the material think about what you would do in this situation. If you would like more information click on the resources menu item at the top of the page.
Brad is the coach of the under 14 boys' football team. Late one Friday night he is seen by a parent of one of the players leaving a known 'gay bar'.
The parent, Sam approaches Col, the club president, at Suturday morning match. Col's son plays in the U14 team.
Follow the conversation between Sam and Col.
Scene 1: Joining the club
"Col, I've got a fair idea that the coach is a poofter. I'm worried about him being with our boys."
Choose the best option from the president's responses:
A) "Okay, don't worry. I'll keep an eye on him, just in case he gets overly 'friendly' with the boys
Col has informed an opinion about the coach based solely on assumption and suspicion.
Col has no information to give him cause for concern nor to justify watching Brad more carefully than any other coach or official.
The behaviour of any person working with children and young people ahould be monitored, irrespective of their perceived sexual orientation. In this case Col should lead by example and not perpetuate stereotypes.
B) "Mate, that's a real problem! He'll try to hit on the boys. I know what i'll do- i'll switch him to the girls' team. At least there he can't do any harm and the girls will love him!"
Col's decision to shift Brad to a girls team is based on two stereotypes a) that all gay men are sexual predators; and b) that they are effeminate. The fact is that while some gay men are effeminate, many are not.
The reality is that Brad is no more likely to be at risk to the safety of the boys in his team than any other club member, regardless of sexual orientation.
C) "I'll have a chat to Brad and see what he's got to say for himself."
Although it may sound like a reasonable thing to do, what could Col say? "Are you gay?" if yes then what? Would Col ask Brad to keep quiet about his sexuality or tell him to keep his "hands off the boys"?
This approach could result in Brad resigning and a discrimination complaint being made against Col or the club.
Consider Brad's position. If he's gay, he could find the questioning intimidating. Many people conceal their homosexuality for fear of harassment, discrimination and violence. And what if he is straight?
Brad's sexuality is irrelevant to the skills and experience required to coach. Ask yourself, if he had been coming out of a strip club would the reaction have been the same?
D) "Well, I'm not sure it is a problem, is it?"
In this instance the club president seems to be keeping an open mind about the situation. Yet there is a hint of uncertainty there. If Col has underlying fears about the coach, or about homosexuality generally (i.e. he is homophobic), it may influence his ability to make fair and unbiased decisions about Brad, his coaching role and situations that may arise in the future.
Let's see how this could happen.....
Brad approaches Col about taking his team to the regional U14 knock out carnival over the Easter weekend. He thinks the competition will be a great opportunity and is keen for the boys to attend. Dormitory Style accomodation is available in a nearby scout camp.
How do you think Col should handle this?
Click the appropriate response.
A) "That's a great idea... but i think it would be better if John took the team away. He's had lots of experience with regional competitions, and his son's in the team."
Brad's enthusiasm and initiatives as a coach should be encourages.
If Col's real concern is about Brad's coaching experience, he needs to find ways to help Brad develop these skills, such as having a more senior coach as a mentor.
If Col dismisses the suggestion because he thinks Brad is gay and therefore a risk to the boys, his decision is both unjustified and discriminatory. The reality is that most paedophiles are heterosexual males and are either related to the victim (e.g. father, brother, uncle, grandfather) or friends of the family.
B) "Yeah, it should be okay, but i don't think the parents would be happy with you going alone."
There should always be more than one adult accompanying groups of children and young people and an appropriate ratio of male and female supervisors. This applies to any sporting club or association going away on trips. Having appropriate adult supervision is part of the club's responsibility to provide a safe environment for children.
Administrators should consider police or working with children checks on all adult supervising children in these situations. This is mandatory in all Australian states and territories.
C) "No way! That's really not a good idea."
Why doesn't Col think it's a good idea?
Brad is an enthusiastic coach and wants to develop the kids' skills. This should be encouraged.
If there are genuine practical reasons why Brad shouldn't take the boys away (e.g. the club can't afford it or transport is a problem), then Col may have reasonable grounds for his response. He needs to discuss this with Brad and see if they can find a solution.
If Col has responded this way because of assumptions about Brad's sexuality and fears for the boys' safety, this is discrimination and has no place in the club environment.
Brad has applied for a more senior position as the coach of the U14 boys' regional representative side. As an elected member of the sports regional association, Col has been invited to join the selection panel. Brad is one of two coaches short listed for the position. In discussing the merits of the final two candidates, Sharon asks...
"Col, you know Brad through his coaching role in your club, what else can you tell us about him?"
How should Col reply?
Click the appropriate response.
A) "Well there has been a lot of talk about him being gay."
Appointments to any position in a sporting organisation should be made on merit. Irrelevant charecteristics such as sexuality should not be considered. To do so, in any part of the selection or recriutment process, for paid or unpaid positions, is not only unfair, it is actually unlawful in all states and territories.
Col, as an administrator, is in a position of privilege and, as such, he has the power to influence Brad's status, reputation and coaching future. Personal pejudice, based on stereotypes and assumptions, should have no place in the decision making process.
B) "Look, I think it's best I don't say anything."
If Col is being asked to comment on Brad's coaching skills, then that is what he should do. This response makes it sound as if there is something to hide and may influence the panel's decision.
If Col is being asked to comment on something that is irrelevant to the coaching position (i.e Brad's sexuality), then his response is reasonable. Col should make it clear that such characteristics cannot be considered, and that it may be unlawful to do so.
C) "In terms of his coaching he is very good."
All Col really knows about Brad is his ability as a coach and this is what he should comment on. If Brad is the best coach for the position he should be offered the role.
However, if there is any inference in Col's response that something other than Brad's coaching skills should be taken into consideration, this is both unfair and discriminatory.
Brad has continued in his role as the under 14's coach during the season and progressively become more involved in other club activities.
At the end of season barbeque Col hears another club member loudly referring to Brad as that "f-ing poofter".
What should Col do?
A) "ignore the comment."
By remaining silent Col is sending a message to all club members that this type of behaviour is acceptable. It quietly condones homophobic attitude and makes Col complicit in the behaviour.
By ignoring the outburst Col is betraying his duty of care to all club members and failing to uphold the club's code of behaviour. Saying nothing sets the scene for incidents like this, and worse, to happen again.
B) "Have a chat with the club member and tell him to keep his opinion to himself."
Although it sounds like a reasonable thing to do, the club member has already publicly voiced his opinion. Col needs to address this, not sweep it under the carpet.
All club members have the right to participate in an environment that is free from harassment and abuse. It is the club president's responsibility to ensure this happens.
C) "Give him an official warning."
The club president is responsible for the safety and well being of all club members. It's therefore up to Col to make sure that members are aware of and abide by, the club's code of behaviour and member protection policy.
In this instance Col has shown strong leadership by not tolerating homophobic abuse. This can take considerable courage, particularly if there is an entrenched culture of homphobia. Col may take some personal flak for his actions, but by speaking out he's not only helping create an environment that includes people, regardless of their sexuality, he's also protecting his club from complaints of discrimination.
What can you do to help create a more inclusive club
Homophobia makes sport exclusive and unsafe. It is also unfair and against the law if people are discriminated against because of their sexuality.
To develop an open and inclusive climate for the participation of gay, lesbian and bi-sexual (GLB) members and personnel your club or sporting organisations committee needs to provide strong leadership.
Be aware of the presumed heterosexual norm of sport and accept that there are gays and lesbians in sport- maybe in your club.
Encourage members and personnel to treat all participants fairly and respectfully and make it clear that homophobic attitudes or remarks won't be tolerated by the club. Don't be a bystander- make sure you speak out against homophobic (or sexist) remarks.