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Equal play study: ways to improve sport experiences

Researchers are investigating the PE and sporting experiences of young same-sex attracted and gender diverse Victorians.

Lead researcher Dr Caroline Symons said the Equal Play study was about ways to improve sport and physical education environments for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) young people and what factors could make them less safe or inclusive.

"Sporting clubs and physical education classes can be a place where some GLBT people can find acceptance and even thrive, but it can also be a place where homophobic bullying resides and young GLBT people feel unwelcomed, drop out, or even experience harassment and abuse," Dr Symons said.

Researchers in the beyondblue-funded 'Equal Play' study are now seeking 14 to 23 year-olds to complete an online survey.

The Safe Schools Coalition and the No to Homophobia campaign are also encouraging schools to promote the study to students who may be interested in completing the survey. Safe Schools Coalition Victoria Coordinator Roz Ward said the research would provide useful evidence on young people's experiences of engaging in PE and sports activities.

"From our work with over 75 schools in Victoria, we know that GLBT young people can often find it difficult to enjoy and engage safely in PE and sports," she said. "However, in schools that are being proactive in challenging homophobia and transphobia sport can be transformed into a really positive experience."

No to Homophobia Campaign coordinator Daniel Scoullar said the study was a vital tool in making schools safe and welcoming for all students.

"75% of same sex attracted and gender diverse high school students are harassed or bullied at school, making school the least safe places for queer young people. Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic harassment damages people's physical and mental health. Schools and education departments have a clear responsibility to ensure students are safe at school," he said.

The Equal Play study was partly informed by Dr Symons' 2010 study Come Out to Play, which explored the experiences of GLBT adults in sporting and PE environments.

Dr Symons said the Come Out To Play study showed GLBT people experienced significant levels of discrimination in sport, based on their sexuality and gender.

"This discrimination limits opportunities for participation, let alone flourishing, in what is considered by many as vital for people's wellbeing, community engagement and valued individual and collective endeavour and achievement," she said.

"There was also evidence this discrimination began during adolescence, within the physical education and sports environments of schools and sports clubs. These are the critical years in which young people learn about, develop competence and enthusiasm for and excel in sport and physical activity. We need to ensure these formative experiences are positive and productive."

The Equal Play study is also supported by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Vic Health, the Australian Council for Health Physical Education and Recreation Victorian Branch, Minus 18, the Rainbow Network and Family Planning Victoria.

You can complete the online survey at the Equal Play Facebook page.

The survey is open until March 2013.

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