Canadian youth sports has created a dark and dangerous place for LGBTQ+ athletes as statistics show Canada is among the worst offenders when it comes to homophobia.
In Toronto, a trial of a teenage boy continues after pleading not guilty to two counts each of gang sexual assault and assault with a weapons-related to incidents in which students were sexually assaulted with a broom handle at elite St. Michael’s College School in 2018.
In another case, 14 former Canadian Hockey League players, led by Dan Carcillo and Garrett Taylor, have filed a class-action lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court of Justice alleging sexual abuse and a “deviant culture” of hazing rituals that took place for decades.
The global research — by Monash University in Australia and Out On The Fields — that includes Canada shows LGBTQ+ youth who came out found nearly half were targets of bullying, slurs, assaults and other negative behaviour, and sport leaders largely ignored their duty to stop homophobic and transphobic behaviour in sports.
Under such intense scrutiny and with growing awareness of the lasting damage such abuse does, organizations are now doing the much-needed work to change.
“There’s a significant prominence of casual homophobia in youth sports,” said Jonas Worth, director of Partnership and Development for You Can Play, an organization that works to ensure the safety and inclusion for all fans, coaches and players apart of the LGBTQ+ community.
Education programs are available to coaches and managers to create healthy, inclusive atmospheres in youth sports and to educate their players.
“The art of being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community also applies to Black Lives Matter, as well as any member of the BIPOC community,” Worth said.
And he said the bonus is “an inclusive locker room can create a more winning environment.”
For players experiencing homophobia, the abuse can follow them through their lives.
Chris Voth is a retired national and professional volleyball player and the first openly gay athlete on Canada’s national team.
“I was denied a contract specifically for the reason of being gay” going into his second year as a pro, Voth said.
After spending a few months at the national training centre in Quebec, he signed with a team in Finland.
“A few months later, we became the first professional volleyball team to walk in a pride parade,” Voth said.
“I don’t think people realize the effect that it has,” he said of the homophobic slurs he routinely heard in locker rooms.
Voth looks to return to his former professional team, Lycurgus in the Netherlands, as an assistant coach as soon as next season.
He said homophobia in youth sports is a much greater issue than sometimes perceived and youth sports in Canada need to be made safe for all players to thrive and experience the benefits that team sports, in their best moments, can provide.