The conversations about making sports more inclusive have started, but it's time to take action.
That's exactly what the LGBTQI2S+ Sport Inclusion Task Force (SITF) has done with last week's launch of their new website: sportinclusion.ca.
The site is intended to support national, provincial and local sports organizations make sports more equitable, diverse, and inclusive for those who identify as LGBTQI2S+.
Matt Allen and Chris Voth's stories are perfect reminders as to why a resource like this is needed.
Allen, who's now 32 and has been the Chief Innovation Officer for the PGA of Canada for the past decade, grew up playing competitive softball and hockey. But the Guelph native quit playing at 22 because as a gay male, he felt intimated and that he couldn't truly be himself.
Voth, a 30-year-old former volleyball star for the University of Manitoba Bisons, came out in a Free Press story in 2014. Two years later, the Winnipegger had a lucrative professional contract offer pulled because of his sexual orientation.
"There are countless stories and I think that's the problem," Allen said. The PGA of Canada, along with the Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Women & Sport, the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary, and Challenge Accepted Collective started the SITF in 2015 at the Pan American Games in Toronto.
"There are so many athletes and coaches and officials who, because of their experiences, don't feel safe in sport and they don't feel sport is an avenue for them. So, what do they do? They drop out and they go find other ways to spend their time and that's the problem. Our systems in the Canadian sports system haven't been welcoming to the LGBTQ community so they leave sport."
Allen said there was a time when these issues weren't being acknowledged at all. It's something that organizations have started talking about, especially in the past year, but Allen said the problem is they often don't know how to start making a difference. That's where sportinclusion.ca can come into play.
"The website is just a piece of what we do, but it encapsulates if you're a sports organization and you want to start this journey, what our website has is anything you need in terms of developing a task force in terms of developing policies, education, understanding allyship, understanding what LGBTQ inclusion can look like, and what are the best practices of organizations that have already started this journey so you don't have to start with a blank sheet of paper," said Allen.
Voth has seen firsthand how there's a demand for something like this.
"I think it's huge because my experience with sports organizations is that they really want to improve and update, but I think there's a bit of a worry that they're going to misstep and do something that's perceived as inappropriate even though they're well-intentioned," said Voth, who's currently in Gatineau, Que., coaching at the National Training Centre with the Canadian volleyball program.
"Especially now during Pride month, lots of organizations have reached out to me to run their wording, their advertisement, their post, or whatever they're doing, past me to just have someone look at it to know that it will get perceived in the right way. So, I'd say from an organizational standpoint, that might be one of the biggest things is having a resource like this where people can learn how to be more inclusive and kind of update their policies and stuff like that. It's fantastic and I think it's just going to propel sport forward."
Sport Manitoba CEO Janet McMahon sees the value in it as well. In October, Sport Manitoba developed an Equity and Inclusion Committee.
"Definitely there's been a lot more conversation locally about this… We've identified some individuals who are gender diverse from the sport community and asked them to review our current Sport Manitoba practices and some of our programming like Manitoba Games, Team Manitoba, and the programs we run out of our building to ensure our practices are in line and they're looked at with this lens," McMahon said.
"I think we don't really know what we don't know so we've had to go to the community who are involved in sport and and help them identify what changes may be required to ensure we are a welcoming and inclusive environment."
For Voth, that's one of the best first steps any organization, coach, or athlete can take — including someone from the LGBTTQ+ community in the conversation so you can better understand what needs to be done moving forward.
"I think anytime you're trying to improve a situation for a certain population, it's good to have the perspectives of those people in the conversation," Voth said.
"So, whether it's having those people in the room, being on staff, or helping guide the new policies coming in and looking back at the old policies that were in place. You'd always learn something from those people that you wouldn't think of on your own."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.