Physical education classes have been shown to have positive effects elementary and high school youth. Not only does gym class have academic benefits, but it also strengthens students’ identification with their schools. However, for LGBT students, this is not always the case. These students reported being harassed and verbally or physically assaulted during these classes. In 2011, 52.8 % of LGBT youth reported being harassed in gym class due to their sexual orientation. This causes LGBT students to avoid gym classes, as well as after school sports, preventing them from gaining access to the beneficial effects of athletics.
One program, called Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project, has developed methods to help LGBT students gain access to sports. The program uses tools to help students and teachers evaluate their schools’ culture and implement change. One resource for students is an article entitled “Bring Your A game”, which explains the difference between being an ally and a bystander. Bringing your ‘A game’ refers to being an ally and a leader to stand up for others and prevent bullying and harassment. Being a bystander means that you allow this discrimination to occur, sending the message that these actions are appropriate. One of the ways a student can be an ally is by asking a coach or teacher to participate in the “Safe Sports Space Campaign”. This involves creating a sports space in which students, coaches, and spectators are treated with respect, and bullying and name-calling is not tolerated. GLSEN suggests that students and coaches post Safe Sport Space rules in the gym and review them with P.E. classes and athletic teams. These rules may include things such as no teasing, no name-calling, treat others with respect, and all are welcome.
Another resource that students and coaches can use is a climate checklist. This is a tool that evaluates the level of discrimination within a school. If the climate is determined to be discriminatory, students can then work to implement change. One way to do this is explained by the “Game Plan for Athletes”, which provides tips for how to make an athletic team welcoming to LGBT students. This includes an inside game and a one on one game. The inside game involves working with yourself to learn more about discrimination, avoid making prejudiced assumptions, and making a pact with yourself to be an ally to LGBT team members. The One on One game involves working with others to treat teammates with respect, use leadership roles to promote an open school climate, and support LGBT teammates. These resources provide students and coaches with ways to stand up to intolerance and create an equal, respectful athletic culture.