There has been a lot of focus on gay rights in the media recently. In 2013 multiple athletes announced they are gay, including an NFL prospect, Michael Sam, and the first ever openly gay NBA player, Jason Collins.
At Durham College and UOIT, teachers and staff say they are committed to making all students and athletes feel safe.
According to Scott Barker, the athletic coordinator for UOIT and Durham College, an athletic team is a great social group for students.
“It’s like a family,” he said. “We want to make sure the environment is welcoming to anyone.”
In 2005, Statistics Canada reported 43 per cent of the Canadian population aged 19-24 played a competitive sport.
According to another study by Statistics Canada, two per cent of Canadians aged 18-59 identify as LGBTQ.
Meanwhile, the Forum Research poll, funded by the National Post, polled Canadians in 2012 and found five per cent of Canadians are LGBTQ and 74 per cent of Canadians know someone who is LGBTQ. It also established LGBT youth are more likely to come out than an older generation.
Barker said athletes and coaches at Durham College and UOIT receive a code of conduct manual that outlines rules and regulations of the team, including bullying.
”There is zero tolerance for that type of discrimination in the department of athletics and as a whole,” said Barker.
Madison Mather, the downtown Outreach Services coordinator believes the focus of sports should be on the athletes and their ability, not their sexual orientation.
“In my personal experience, because of the culture in sports, even though we are on the verge of changing that culture, students who do participate in both don’t overlap the two,” she said.
Dino Erodotou, the Student Association’s director of operations added, “it doesn’t matter, it’s just about the person.”
But Mather believes there is still too much stigma around athletes.
“Often I find that LGBTQ students who are out and proud, feel they have to go back in the closet because of that environment that’s promoted in the locker room,” she said.
“There are things that happen in the dressing rooms that probably aren’t acceptable in society and that’s something that the pro-athletes have to work to clean up,” he said.
Anti-gay slurs and incidents are rare on campus, according to Barker. “We’ve never had a situation of severity and I think that’s in part of the student athletes that we try and recruit.”
Former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager, Brian Burke, started the You Can Play organization in memory of his son Brandon, who was an openly gay hockey player.
It’s a start but, according to Erodotou, there is still room to go.
“It’s still very much swept under the rug,” he said. “It’s going to take more people like Brian Burke, Michael Sam and Jason Collins for it to help make a change.”
“The amount attitude has changed from 20 years ago to now, is incredible,” said Erodotou. “It’s going to happen, and it should happen. Things will be just so much easier, in my opinion.”
Outreach Services on campus offers information, support and resources to the LGBTQ community for free. The club partners with other LGBTQ organizations in the community such as PFLAG Durham to help students meet new people in a safe environment.