Sackville (CUP) — Competing on the ice, field, or hardcourt is supposed to serve as a medium in which humans can be careless, free, and at peace. For some gay athletes, it can feel more like a prison.
Nothing is more important in competition than getting the win and basking in glory. But for decades, gay athletes have been held back by what You Can Play (YCP) co-founder Brian Kitts calls “casual homophobia.” YCP is a project with the goal to rid sports of homophobia.
After campaigns to rid the locker room of racist and sexist behaviour, homophobia has been thrust in the spotlight as the next target.
The effort to end homophobia in the locker room has been a hot-button issue from the big leagues to local arenas for a significant portion of the last half-century, and Kitts hopes the organization he helped start will be able to make a difference.
Kitts co-founded YCP with Patrick Burke and Glenn Witman in March 2012 as a tribute to Burke’s brother, Brendan, who came out in November 2009 and worked to eradicate homophobia in professional sports before he died in a car crash in February 2010. At the time, Brendan was the Student Manager at Miami University for the men’s hockey team.
Despite the gains made in recent years with athletes, executives, journalists, and teams coming together to stand against homophobia, one Mount Allison athlete still thinks total acceptance of gay athletes is unbalanced.
“I think that in general it’s more accepted among women to have gay teammates than men,” said the athlete, who wished to remain anonymous.
This was reflected in the comments from fourth-year Mt. Allison Mounties hockey forward Chelsea King, who’s adamant that homophobia shouldn’t be tolerated in any sport.
“We’re all the same. Nobody should be judged or made fun of because of their sexual preference,” she said.
However, the campaign to end homophobia in the locker room also faces roadblocks. Locker room decisions and the events that transpire there are usually restricted to athletes and team personnel. This puts most of the decision to take a stand on the shoulders of the athletes and teams.
“Humans, by nature, value fairness,” said Kitts. “It’s a matter of giving them the opportunity to get on board with this.”
Since their founding almost a year ago, YCP has joined forces with several prominent schools, teams, and athletes, all pledging to take a stand to end homophobia. The St. Thomas University Tommies, the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, and the Ontario Intercollegiate Fastpitch Association have all taken a stand at the Canadian university level.
But the battle is still a long way from being over. Kitts noted the importance of not only forming an alliance of gay athletes, but partnering with straight athletes as well. “We’re going to grow out of [casual homophobia],” he said.
Kitts hopes homophobia can be targeted in a similar way to racism and sexism, though he admitted change will not come overnight. He referred to several decades ago when it would have been considered acceptable to some degree to use derogatory language towards athletes of different races or gender. This isn’t the case now, demonstrating how the world of sport has made strides towards a more open atmosphere.
Kitts is firmly focused on doing the same work with homophobia. For now, he and his team work day in and day out to ensure that athletic ability is the only determining factor for success in sports, from the bright lights of the world’s biggest athletic events to minor hockey games at the local arena.