LGBTQ Students and School Sports Participation

LGBTQ Students and School Sports Participation Research Brief

Sports participation has positive effects on youth development, improving physical health, social skills and psychological well‐being. Additionally, research has found that sports participation is related to greater feelings of school belonging and pro‐school behaviors. Despite these benefits, some research has found negative effects of sports participation among LGBTQ students, including social exclusion and feeling unsafe, associated with increased mental health challenges. Sports environments have been shown to reflect high levels of anti-LGBTQ harassment on playing fields and in locker rooms. Previous research from GLSEN and other scholars has found that LGBTQ youth regularly experience hostile school climates, which can inhibit their participation in school activities in general, and sports in particular. Enhancing the climate of sports in schools is necessary to allow LGBTQ students full access to school life and to improve the well-being of LGBTQ students who choose to participate in sports. Therefore, we are interested in the conditions that predict sports participation, benefits of sports participation for LGBTQ youth and how those benefits may differ across groups.

The purpose of this Research Brief is to illustrate the sports-related experiences of LGBTQ students in K-12 schools. This brief will 1) examine conditions that may predict sports participation 2) describe LGBTQ students’ experiences of discrimination within sports, and 3) examine benefits to sports participation for LGBTQ students. Further, we discuss whether there are differences in both access to and benefits of sports participation for transgender and nonbinary students.


GLSEN Changing the Game logo

GLSEN's Changing the Game is a groundbreaking program that started in 2011 to give resources for educators and students to ensure that physical education classes and athletics are inclusive for LGBTQ+ individuals. Explore and learn about our revised and expanded program, which includes updated and new resources, educational training, engagement opportunities, and stories from LGBTQ+ young athletes and their supporters.