October 7, 2020

LGBTQ+ In Lockdown: The impact on and role of LGBTQ+ Sports Clubs

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a radical effect on the provision of and participation in organised sport, but how has this affected LGBTQ+ people in particular? 

64% of surveyed LGBT people said they would rather receive support for their physical and mental health during this time from an LGBT specific organisation - could your club be that support? 

Last week’s #Fridayfindings explained some of the benefits of joining an LGBTQ+ sports group. Research by Mock et al showed that these groups help meet the identity affirmation needs of their members. Furthermore, they were shown to be important tools in confronting and working through internalised homophobia, which can prevent LGBTQ+ people from participating in sports due to social stigma. In an inclusive club, there is an opportunity to lay aside these concerns and focus on the game - you are judged by your performance and not your identity, which can be a relief. Sports offer a chance to switch off from other distractions and worries. They can be a lifeline to those struggling with their mental health, as well as offering physiological benefits in the form of dopamine hits and increased body confidence. 

A study by Nottingham Business school x Pride Sports noted that around half of the clubs surveyed were able to substitute some form of physical activity when lockdown was announced. Many clubs put on yoga classes or set up groups to record exercise in other forms - for example posting photos, routes and lap times on Strava. The competitive spirit found a new home (at home!) as teammates challenged each other to toilet roll keepy-uppies and encouraged each other to run 5k to support the NHS.  However, while some sports were able to transition quite easily and effectively to an online format - for example dance, HIIT or martial arts - others that required specific equipment and facilities could not. These substitutes kept people physically active, but were not specific enough to increase performance in some sports. Therefore there was a major variation in the extent to which different sports were restricted and experienced during lockdown. 

“Our online strength and conditioning session has been very well received, with some people that never did it in person now taking part as there is no travel involved - but only about half of the club has taken part in any activities.”

Furthermore, participation in many of these activities required an additional resource: a good home environment. Though it is true that those with pools, rowing machines and treadmills or large gardens were far better able to keep up distanced exercise compared to people living in high rise flats in cities with very little greenspace, it is also important to think about the mental space needed to participate in LGBTQ+ inclusive clubs. For LGBTQ+ youth still living at home, or returned from university, lockdown may have meant a return to living with homophobic family members or to people they were not ‘out’ to, which made participation in inclusive online club activities or socials difficult. A survey by the LGBT Foundation found that 8% of respondents did not feel safe where they were currently staying. Though they were offering important and valid opportunities to connect to a wider LGBTQ+ community, explicitly queer branding might discourage potential participants fearing judgement or repercussion for getting involved.

“Temporarily living with my parents meant that I can't be as open about who I am. Although living in the city has allowed me to be free, going back to my parents' house has meant I have had to censor myself in ways."

The importance of maintaining the social element of clubs during lockdown was recognised and prioritised from the outset. The majority of clubs surveyed had put on social events separate from their provision of physical activity. LGBTQ+ clubs offer a network of support for their members that goes beyond physical health. Mental wellbeing requirements were catered to through zoom quizzes, virtual club nights and the creation of WhatsApp social chats. Before the introduction of ‘support bubbles’, the lockdown rules had serious implications for those living alone. The potential to feel socially isolated and the need to access support groups such as those usually provided by participation in sport was amplified for these individuals.

“I really miss seeing other queer women regularly, as it helped my confidence within my identity, and I feel I am definitely losing that with being alone.”

October marks 7 months since lockdown was first announced in the UK. Since then, we have seen a staggered return to sport. Professionals were the first to return, with televised sporting events such as the Newmarket Horse Races and Premier League back on screens by June. Grassroots have seen a slower return, and the impact on smaller clubs who rely on membership fees or sponsorship to survive are particularly vulnerable to collapse. In the Pride Sports survey, one club reported that its active members had dropped by about 85%, and its new members by 98%. The use of social media to push participation and spread the word about grassroots clubs’ return to sport is a great resource, but it cannot reach everyone - and it is no substitute for taster sessions and getting stuck in.

The impact of Covid-19 on the sporting world, and LGBTQ+ people within it, has been and continues to be significant. This article has demonstrated the essential role LGBTQ+ sports clubs play in keeping our community mentally and physically well, especially in these exceptional times. 

Additional resources:

Stonewall has compiled a resource on how LGBT inclusive organisations are providing help and support at this time, which can be found here. COVID-19 – how LGBT-inclusive organisations can help

Find an LGBT+ inclusive club near you: https://pridesports.org.uk/lgbt-club-finder/


Hidden Figures: The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on LGBT Communities in the UK (May 2020) - LGBT Foundation

LGBT+ Sports and Physical Activity Groups: Coronavirus Lockdown Survey (July 2020) - Pride Sports x Nottingham Business School

Freya Boulton

October 7, 2020

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