Wednesday 15, February 2012
Sexuality, media and sport
“It’s almost like they’re waiting for the next gay sports star to come out – hunt the gay person in sport. It’s made out to be about sex and what goes on in the changing rooms but this is just one part of my life and the media make it revolve around sexual arousal. When you’re on a training regime like mine, believe me, you’re not having sex with anyone!” – Claire Harvey, potential paralympic competitor and advocate for LGBT rights.
We know that sex sells. As journalists, we know all too well to what degree it does, although lucrative, seedy kiss-and-tell stories are almost definitively a shameful and cheap way to sell papers. However, when it becomes more a case of who you’re attracted to and less about what you do in and around the community, a good look in the mirror might be in order.
Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) History Month 2012 saw its launch at MediaCityUK with a discussion on the media's portrayal of LGBT sports stars.
I jumped at the
chance to be there to learn, to listen and to shed some light on the matter. And this was before I opened my eyes to the fact
that basketball star turned psychologist and political activist John
Amaechi was one of the panel members.
Happy with being out of the Salford
chill, I was first to take a pew and a lone writer, frantically scribbling a
mismatch of imaginative shorthand and undecipherable script, in a room full of fixated
listeners. It was only when an audience member mentioned something that hadn’t
entered my mind, that I retired my pen and became engrossed in discussion.
“My son came home one day and said some of the
more dominant boys in the class had been taunting an openly gay child in a P.E
lesson and subsequently refused to undress in the boys’ company. Instead of
challenging this view, the teacher only encouraged the gay child to change in
solitude and that was that – nothing else was said.”
Needless to say, this sparked a debate.
Young minds are impressionable and evidently need guiding
down the right path by the ones responsible for their growth in a world where
diversity and equality dictate what is and what isn’t politically correct. Each
to their own of course, but to ignore the problem altogether is surely the
wrong way to go about it.
Accompanying Harvey and Amaechi on the panel was Sarah Williams, an influential member of the RFL, managing all strands of equality and diversity within the sport. She argued that Rugby League has long been aware of discrimination against the LGBT community but, more importantly, has taken significant steps towards ousting what shouldn’t matter on the pitch.
“Rugby League is welcome to anyone because it
ensures no player is honed in on for anything more than their sporting
abilities,” she says.
It becomes clear just how much work she has put into this cause on hearing that the RFL are the one and only sports establishment to feature within the 'Top 100 gay-friendly organisations'.
What is less
comprehensible is the painful lack of support from other widely respected sport
groups, including the FA when, on initial inspection, Rugby is one of the most
masculine and macho sports available.
Looking at Williams' body of work in relation to LGBT in sport, there is a realisation of just how important it is to tackle homophobia at school with campaigns launched to hear what the LGBT youth have experienced regarding homophobia and sport. Just why other sporting organisations haven’t employed this stance yet was discussed at length yet no one had the answer.
Media representations of the LGBT community, while
seemingly attempting to aid the fight against homophobia, tend to be close-minded and ineffective, more often than not further segregating the community.
Newspapers are so quick to out homosexuality in the world of sport instead of
tailoring the news around individual career choices and brilliant ability.
The final panel member to speak, Chris
Noble MBE, a director of Sheffield Eagles Rugby League Club, commented on this
matter stating simply that “this is a no
win situation” but wholeheartedly backs the need for more awareness
to be raised within other sporting fields.
We only have to look at the
risqué commentary of the life of a homosexual throughout successful
publications (the ‘Closer’ and the ‘OK!’ cohort) and the more often than not
naked illustration of the forgotten reason for the ‘Gay Pride’ festivals to see
why the LGBT community and everything it stands for is still such a taboo
Due to economic and commercial pressures of editorial which
ultimately celebrates style over content, minorities seem to be stereotyped –
the gay community being pigeonholed into that promiscuous and fun-loving
typecast whereby nothing is taken seriously. How mocking of them.
minority becomes more prominent in the hierarchical society we live in, we see
alterations in the way they are portrayed within the media so, in layman’s
terms, wherever the LGBT community go, the media is sure to follow. However,
the issue lies within how they are represented, not the fact that they are.
In these terms, it’s unfortunate to see disobedience from the media towards the ideological shift of pluralism – the ultimate bid for transparency, freedom and variety within the UK media marketplace – that the majority of us seem game for.
No matter the type of discrimination, it is
altogether unnecessary and shows huge malevolence from the people
responsible for dishing it out to whoever they choose to take exception to.
“Society puts nice, pretty little frames on prejudice – there are many lovely pictures of black people holding hands with white people but that’s not addressing any issue of discrimination. That’s just taking a picture,” offers Amaechi.
Whether or not you believe that homophobia begins at
school, is forced upon people thanks to the media or isn’t helped by enough
people, it stands as one of the biggest and most damaging forms of
discrimination. With the hard work of people like John Amaechi, Claire
Harvey, Sarah Williams and Chris Noble, will we ever be able to wave goodbye to the
discrimination levelled at the LGBT community?
When asked if she thinks she’ll ever be
out of a job, Sarah Williams responds: “Not
a chance. There is no end to equality and diversity.” We may
not ever see the back of this debate but, just as the people on the panel here strive for, we can do our best to quieten it down.
by Christina Marie Brooke
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