How Social Media Is Becoming a Safe Space for Aspiring LGBTI+ Athletes

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The world of sport has always been a space of contention for LGBTI+ athletes. A study by Adelaide's Flinders University found that nearly 40 percent of respondents who participate in sports "have felt unsafe or vulnerable in a sporting environment as a result of their gender identification or sexuality". The good news is that attitudes are gradually changing and becoming more inclusive, which can be partially attributed to the power of social media. Daydreaming in Paradise’s article on social media influencers describes their crucial role in bringing awareness to certain issues in a global context. For instance, posts on popular apps like Instagram have the ability to reach members of the LGBTI+ community, showing them that they are not alone in their struggles. With that in mind, here are some ways social media plays a key role in promoting sport within the LGBTI+ community.

On a professional level, there is a number of LGBTI+ athletes who use their fame as an avenue to come out about their sexuality, creating a sense of community and solidarity. Gus Kenworthy is an Olympic skier, who tweeted a picture of himself on the cover of ESPN Magazine with the words, "I am gay." He later posted on Facebook that he had been afraid to embrace his sexuality for most of his life. However, he added that he had recently gotten to the point where the pain of holding onto the lie became greater than the fear of coming out and letting go. Surely, many of his followers could relate to his words.

Another great example is Katie Sowers, who is known as the first openly gay and female assistant coach taking part in the Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers. Because she was previously rejected for a volunteer coaching position due to her "lifestyle", she used her platform to promote inclusivity for LGBTI+ members.

Sowers was involved in the creation of a Pride fan club for the 49ers, which is the first NFL team-sponsored group to officially recognize its LGBTQ fans. She frequently posts photos with her girlfriend on her Instagram account and shares anecdotes of her coaching experience.

By posting about their daily lives, struggles, and sporting achievements, athletes and influencers promote space for the LGBTI+ community to further reflect on their identities and be inspired by the bravery of their role models.

Along with social media influencers, advocacy campaigns also play a vital role in social media outreach. A 2017 research study by Erica L. Ciszek published in the Journal of Homosexuality found that advocacy organisations employing social media campaigns have the ability to reach the youth through these platforms, primarily aiding in identity development. She writes how Advocacy campaigns are sites of aggregation and exchange among young people where users can collect and pick content that fits their specific needs, providing libraries of information and communities of similar users. It enables them to connect directly or indirectly, with other LGBTI+ members. Campaigns provide young people with a digital platform to hear positive messages that they do not necessarily get to hear in their non virtual experiences.

One example that garnered mixed reactions is England’s Premier League 'Rainbow Laces' campaign. Through their social media platforms, they received a significant number of negative comments and hate speech. However, the Premier League emphasised that reactions have largely been positive. For instance, CNN Sport found that all of the clubs who re-branded on Facebook in support of 'Rainbow Laces,' only Aston Villa had more negative reactions than positive. Stonewall's de Santos emphasises how the campaign uses sport as a tool to connect with audiences, saying that "We know sport is loved and vital to communities, we want LGBT people to feel just as part of that community to feel safe, respected and welcome for who they are."

While discriminatory responses and abusers are still a part of the social media world, we are becoming more proactive as a community to take action against offensive speech. Taking a zero-tolerance approach to hate speech and other forms of bullying is the key to promoting a safe space for any aspiring LGBTI+ athletes in the community.

Exclusively submitted to

Submitted by: JBenson

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