If we were making a list of the places where one would find respect and a safe environment for homosexuals that list would probably not start with a school locker room. Male athletes on a football team or a wrestling team are well known for being aggressive, tough, and homophobic. Yet among the players on teams throughout the world there are and always have been, gay athletes. In these presumed bastions of intolerant heterosexual “maleness”, what is the has their experience been?
Earlier this year researcher Eric Anderson published an update of his research which focuses on this very question. His article, “Gay Athletes, Straight Teams, and Coming Out in Educationally Based Sport Teams”, includes interviews with openly gay high school athletes about how they function and get along within their teams. The study is actually a followup to the interviews Anderson did 10 years earlier on the same topic. The results, by and large, are encouraging: 10 years later athletes report having little problem being openly gay and being treated as an equal by their team mates.
The changes in the new study go beyond comments that athletes feel accepted, there is also a change in their willingness to be part of such a study. In his first study Anderson had difficulty getting homosexual athletes from varying skill levels to do an interview. Only those playing non-contact sports like tennis or swimming, and who were star players, were willing to speak about their experiences. A decade later the study indicates that now even average or below average athletes from contact sports felt no problem with being interviewed as gay athletes.
There are limitations to the study, the participants are majority white, middle-class Americans. Still, the difference between his initial study to his latest study indicates that conditions have improved in the locker room for homosexual athletes, even in contexts that were long assumed to be hostile ground for anyone who is openly gay.
Anderson, E. (2011). Updating the Outcome: Gay Athletes, Straight Teams, and Coming Out in Educationally Based Sport Teams Gender & Society, 25 (2), 250-268 DOI: 10.1177/0891243210396872