Eleven days ago the Vancouver Canucks made a colourful and powerful statement when a number of players took the pregame warm-up in Boston with rainbow Pride tape adorning their sticks. They will repeat the gesture at home versus Detroit Feb. 28.
The show of LGBT solidarity and inclusively is part of a campaign by the NHL and You Can Play — an organization that fights homophobia in sports.
High profile anti-homophobia and anti-bullying messages are increasingly part of a public dialogue around sports, but a new study out of UBC indicates the message isn't getting through just yet.
"These kinds of initiatives do take time to translate from raising awareness to changing hearts and minds to actually creating social-behavioural change," said senior author Elizabeth Saewyc.
The study found that over a 15 year period between 1998 and 2013 there was a significant decline in lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) teens' participation in sports in British Columbia. It also found that LGB youth were half as likely to play sports as straight youth.
Saewyc believes one reason may be that LGB youth aren't made to feel welcome in high school and community sports.
"To what extent are the community leagues and youth leagues and coaches not just tolerant [but] explicitly and clearly welcoming to LGBTQ youth? Because when a teen is part of a stigmatized group and they're struggling with sorting that out for themselves, they're not necessarily going to take risks in places where they don't see overt signs of a welcoming, inclusive and safe place to be," she said.
Where are the role models?
Saewyc points out there's still very few openly gay professional athletes which deprives gay youth of a badly-needed role models. And, while there are more openly lesbian athletes, female sport receives comparatively little media coverage.
The study used data from over 99,000 responses to the McCreary Centre Society's British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey which is administered anonymously to students in Grades 7 though 12.
The next survey will be conducted in 2018 and Saewyc says she hopes the trend will reverse by then.
"The physical and mental health benefits of sports involvement during adolescence are quite clear. So it feels like a health equity issue that if LGBTQ youth don't feel safe to play, don't feel welcome and included, then they're missing out on a real opportunity at maximizing their potential as teenagers and on into adulthood."