Joining an LGBTQ+ sports club

15 May 2024

For years, studies have shown that exercise and fitness are linked to improving the physical and mental health of all of us.

Still, the playing field has not always been equal. In fact, research has shown that LGBTQ+ people have faced barriers, exclusion, and discrimination within the sporting world.

But a rising number of LGBTQ+ sports groups, from softball to badminton, are providing LGBTQ+ people with a sense of community.

With changing attitudes, there are also plenty of examples of non-LGBTQ+ specific sporting teams supporting their LGBTQ+ teammates and welcoming them into their clubs.

This Pride month, we take a look at the benefits of joining an LGBTQ+ sports team - and how general clubs can better support their LGBTQ+ members.

The benefits of sports, fitness, and exercise

Research has consistently shown that exercise improves the physical and mental wellbeing of all of us, whatever your sexuality or gender identity.

Exercise can cut your risk of major illnesses, including strokes, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. It can even lower your chances of an early death by up to 30%!

When it comes to mental health, the benefits are clear: exercise can reduce our risk of stress and depression, while boosting our mood, self-esteem, and sleep quality.1

Exercise, then, can really benefit the LGBTQ+ community. This is especially important because studies have shown that LGBTQ+ people experience worse health outcomes than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts,2 including higher rates of mental health conditions and substance misuse.3

At the same time, research has also shown that LGBTQ+ people benefit from being in spaces with their own community, including by having better mental health.4

So, LGBTQ+ sports clubs are a win-win: it's LGBTQ+ people benefitting from doing exercise with their own community.

Did you know?

Experts recommend that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week. This could include climbing the stairs, brisk walking and cycling.5

Finding an LGBTQ+ sports group

Okay, so you want to join an LGBTQ+ sports club? That's great! A good first port of call is Pride Sports, which works to improve access to sport for LGBTQ+ people.

Pride Sports has its own searchable database of more than 270 LGBTQ+ inclusive clubs across the UK and Ireland, with options to filter by region, city, and sport. Some of these clubs are just for LGBTQ+ people, while others welcome both LGBTQ+ teammates and allies of the community.

There are a whole host of activities to choose from, including baseball, rugby, football, cycling, wild swimming, cricket, martial arts, running, dance, surfing, hiking, and yoga. Once you've found a club, get in touch via their website or social media handles to see how you can get involved.

Alternatively, try using Google or social media to find an LGBTQ+ inclusive club where you are. Other resources included the Bend app, which offers classes, from boxing to yoga, by and for LGBTQ+ people.

Did you know?

The concept of LGBTQ+ sports groups dates back decades, combining the benefits of exercise with queer community spaces. In fact, the Gay Games - the world’s largest LGBTQ+ sporting event - was founded in San Francisco in 1982. It's held every four years in a different host city.

Take part in online classes

If you're unable to join an LGBTQ+ sports community in-person, there are plenty of online alternatives, such as The Proud Gym, which offers personal fitness classes. Try searching Google for LGBTQ+ friendly personal trainers or contact an LGBTQ+ inclusive club to see if they have any online support or resources available.

Barriers for LGBTQ+ people in sport

Thankfully, research has shown that LGBTQ+ people are being increasingly welcomed in sports and fitness communities across the UK. Still, there is work to be done: one recent study found that a fifth of sports fans think anti-LGBTQ+ language is harmless if it's meant as banter.6

LGBTQ+ who experienced homophobia, biphobia and/or transphobia while playing sports growing up, such as at school, may also feel intimidated by getting involved in fitness communities again. LGBTQ+ inclusive clubs can help ensure they feel welcomed and give them that confidence to play sports again.

Did you know?

Women's football is known for its LGBTQ+ inclusion, from the grassroots to the elite levels: at least 96 publicly LGBTQ+ footballers competed at the 2023 Women's World Cup.7 There are fewer "out" players in the men's professional game, but Australian player Josh Cavallo made history when he came out as gay in 2021. His announcement made him the only publicly gay player in the top-flight of men's professional football at the time.

Advice for non-LGBTQ+ sports clubs

Not every village, town or even city in the UK will have an LGBTQ+ specific sports team. Despite this, it's still worth considering joining a club in your chosen sport where you live - with changing attitudes in recent years, research has shown increasing acceptance of LGBTQ+ teammates within grassroots sport.8

If you run a sports club, why not make a few changes to ensure that your LGBTQ+ members feel more included?

Here are a few tips to get started:

  1. Publish a list of the club's values. State that everyone is welcome, including LGBTQ+ people and other marginalised groups.
  2. Call out abuse. Stamp out any homophobic, biphobic and/or transphobic abuse if you hear or witness it.
  3. Use inclusive language. Avoid gendered stereotypes such as "man up" or "you play like a girl" which may make LGBTQ+ people feel uncomfortable or excluded.
  4. Don't assume a person's sexuality or gender identity. Instead, try to create a safe environment where teammates feel comfortable sharing who they are.
  5. Show your support for the LGBTQ+ community. For example, you could highlight LGBTQ+ role models within your sport during Pride month or join LGBTQ+ inclusion campaigns within sports, such as Stonewall's Rainbow Laces initiative.

There are plenty of resources available online on how to be an LGBTQ+ ally, too.

The takeaway

There are so many LGBTQ+ sports clubs available to join right across the UK. Even if your club isn't specifically for the LGBTQ+ community, you can help ensure your LGBTQ+ teammates feel included by making a few simple changes.

Sport is beneficial for all of us, including the LGBTQ+ community. Inclusive clubs foster a sense of community for LGBTQ+ people, alongside bringing physical and mental benefits.


About the author

Ella Braidwood is a freelance journalist specialising in the LGBTQ+ community who writes for publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post and more.