Q&A: Champion of Positive Spaces in Sport - Part 2
Jennifer Birch-Jones is a household name when it comes to LGBTQI2S sport inclusion. She held a key role during the creation of the first positive space in sport for a Canadian team at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, and was on the Organizing Committee for the inaugural Pride House at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics. As the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS) Program Lead for LGBTQI2S Inclusion in Sport, Jennifer currently works with sport leaders to create welcoming and inclusive environments.
In addition to her expertise in LGBTQI2S sport inclusion, Jennifer is a Senior Consultant, Facilitator and Trainer with Intersol Group, specializing in facilitated and integrated approaches to planning, performance measurement, evaluation and learning.
In Part 2 of her Q&A, Jennifer shares practical ways for the sport community to foster inclusion and celebrate diversity.
You’ve been working closely with viaSport and a handful of provincial sport organizations to embed more inclusive policies and practices. What have you learned during the process so far?
Every sport organization starts from a different place – their motivation to be more inclusive, their existing LGBTQI2S inclusion in sport competencies (knowledge, policies and practice), having visibly out LGBTQI2S members in their sport and their willingness to engage in conversations with LGBTQI2S members about their experiences and what can be done to make their sport more welcoming.
Although there are lots of commonalities, there are also some nuances that are unique to each sport’s journey. For provincial sport organizations who have reached out to LGBTQI2S athletes or other members of their sport, their conversations have been welcomed by the LGBTQI2S+ member and have generated meaningful insight.
The other aspect we have learned is that PSOs are not very visible about being LGBTQI2S-inclusive.
But we know from our research that if an organization or an individual isn’t visible in their support, LGBTQI2S members will assume that their organization is not welcoming, and may remain closeted in their sport community. In some cases, they may even leave sport because of it.
It can be little things – positive space in sport signs, a page on your website which states your commitment to LGBTQI2S inclusion and a link to the viaSport LGBTQI2S webpage and their resources, or having staff, Board and other members of your sport participate in the COC’s #OneTeam initiative and You Can Play’s Pride March contingent – that make a big difference.
What advice do you have for LGBTQI2S individuals who are currently facing barriers in sport?
I would encourage them to seek out a trusted voice, either in their sport or outside of it, that they can talk to openly and in confidence about – the barriers they are facing, how they are feeling, and what some of the strategies that they can use are. And if they don’t have someone they feel they can talk openly to, I would encourage them to seek out other voices with similar lived experiences.
In our new resource for coaches that viaSport is developing with PSOs, we have included links to a number of online LGBTQI2S community resources, including Trans, Gender Non-Conforming, and Intersex Athlete Network, TransAthletes, You Can Play and Equality Coaching Alliance. (This is a private Facebook Group for LGBTQI2S+ coaches who can contact email@example.com to join)
What are some practical ways for sport organizations to be more inclusive in sport?
Start with your own education. Read the key Canadian resources that are out there. Check out: viaSport’s LGBTQI2S Resources, CAAWS’ Leading the Way; Working with LGBTQ+ Athletes and Coaches and their Trans Inclusion Position Statement, and CCES’ Creating Inclusive Environments for Trans Participants in Canadian Sport - Guidance for Sport Organizations and Policy and Practice Template for Sport Organizations.
Have some conversations - look for visibly out LGBTQI2S members in your sport (athletes, coaches, officials, staff, Board members) and have a conversation with them about what it is like to be LGBTQI2S in your sport and what they feel can be done.
Be visible with your commitment - have a web page that states your commitment to safe sport for LGBTQI2S participants, with links to viaSport’s resource page.
Put in place a plan to make your sport safer for LGBTQI2S members – reflect on what you have learned with your LGBTQI2S members and develop a plan for improvement. This could include an LGBTQI2S inclusion policy but should also include concrete actions such as the critically important coach education component. It is coaches who are key – there is much that they can do to create safe and inclusive spaces, starting with a zero tolerance for LGBTQI2S-phobic language.
How about for individuals - whether it be a parent, coach, athlete or fan?
Again, being an ally and visibly demonstrating your support for LGBTQI2S inclusion is key. Take the time to educate yourself, especially on more complex issues, and don’t be afraid to have the difficult conversations when you hear someone using LGBTQI2S-phobic language or reinforcing untrue stereotypes and unfounded myths.
By doing so, you will make sport a better place for all - not just those who are LGBTQI2S.