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LGBTQ+ Youth’s Experiences and Engagement in Physical Activity: A Comprehensive Content Analysis

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Research suggests that sexual and gender minority (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning; LGBTQ+) youth report avoiding physical activity settings (e.g., physical education class, locker rooms, and sport fields) due to feeling both unsafe and uncomfortable. These feelings and experiences might deter LGBTQ+ youth from achieving well-documented physical, cognitive, and social-emotional benefits that are often associated with physical activity and sport involvement. A 20-year (1998–2018) content analysis methodology was employed to obtain a more detailed understanding of LGBTQ+ youth’s participation and engagement in physical activity and sport. Minimal literature was obtained (n = 13 studies), along with an overall pattern that sexual minority youth engage in less physical activity than other populations of students. This disparity was more conclusive for sexual minority males then sexual minority females. One study was inclusive of transgender youth and suggested that transgender youth participated in sport to a similar degree as their cisgender peers; though overall, transgender youth felt less safe in typically gender-segregated spaces such as bathrooms and locker rooms. This review shines light on discrepancies of engagement and feelings of safety in the physical activity and sport context among LGBTQ+ youth. This review further delineates methodological characteristics of the yielded studies as a means to comprehensively review this body of literature.
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Vol.:(0123456789)
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Adolescent Research Review (2019) 4:169–185
https://doi.org/10.1007/s40894-019-00110-4
SYSTEMATIC REVIEW
LGBTQ+ Youth’s Experiences andEngagement inPhysical Activity:
AComprehensive Content Analysis
ScottB.Greenspan1 · CatherineGrith1· RyanJ.Watson2
Received: 1 December 2018 / Accepted: 29 January 2019 / Published online: 18 February 2019
© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019
Abstract
Research suggests that sexual and gender minority (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning; LGBTQ+)
youth report avoiding physical activity settings (e.g., physical education class, locker rooms, and sport fields) due to feel-
ing both unsafe and uncomfortable. These feelings and experiences might deter LGBTQ+ youth from achieving well-
documented physical, cognitive, and social-emotional benefits that are often associated with physical activity and sport
involvement. A 20-year (1998–2018) content analysis methodology was employed to obtain a more detailed understanding
of LGBTQ+ youth’s participation and engagement in physical activity and sport. Minimal literature was obtained (n = 13
studies), along with an overall pattern that sexual minority youth engage in less physical activity than other populations of
students. This disparity was more conclusive for sexual minority males then sexual minority females. One study was inclusive
of transgender youth and suggested that transgender youth participated in sport to a similar degree as their cisgender peers;
though overall, transgender youth felt less safe in typically gender-segregated spaces such as bathrooms and locker rooms.
This review shines light on discrepancies of engagement and feelings of safety in the physical activity and sport context
among LGBTQ+ youth. This review further delineates methodological characteristics of the yielded studies as a means to
comprehensively review this body of literature.
Keywords LGBTQ· Youth· Physical activity· Content analysis
Introduction
While physical activity is associated with a host of positive
outcomes for young people (e.g., Ahn and Fedewa 2011;
The United States Department of Health and Human Ser-
vices [USDHHS], 2018) and public health guidelines posit
that youth ages 6–17 engage in 60min of physical activity
per day (USDHHS 2018), sexual and gender minority (e.g.,
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning;
LGBTQ+) youth specifically avoid athletic spaces (e.g.,
physical education class, locker rooms, and sport fields) due
to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable (e.g., Kosciw etal. 2018).
Such feelings and experiences might be attributed to the
emphasis of traditional gender roles (Clarke 2012) as well
as the embeddedness of hegemonic masculinity (Anderson
2002) within such contexts.
With the goal of advancing this field, Greenspan etal.
(2017) employed a nine-journal content analysis of LGBTQ
youth’s experiences in school-based athletics. The authors
focused their review on journals serving specific disciplines
including school psychology, school counseling, and physi-
cal education. However, no relevant literature was uncov-
ered. The authors suggested that a more comprehensive con-
tent analysis would likely be a more generative approach to
further exploring physical activity among LGBTQ+ popula-
tions. Thus, the impetus for this current study was to engage
in a broader content analysis of LGBTQ youth’s experiences
in physical activity and sport.
* Scott B. Greenspan
sgreenspan@umass.edu
1 Department ofStudent Development, College ofEducation,
University ofMassachusetts Amherst, 813 North Pleasant
Street, 01002Amherst, MA, USA
2 Department ofHuman Development andFamily Studies,
University ofConnecticut, 348 Mansfield Road, U-1058,
06269Storrs, CT, USA
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... LGBTIQ research in Physical Education Some didactic approaches of PE are closely related to inherent social and cultural aspects, often determined by body and gender stereotypes (Greenspan et al., 2019;Lambert, 2018). Some of these approaches generate situations of discrimination towards LGBTIQ people Silva et al., 2018). ...
... This approach, although rarely acknowledged by teachers, leads to school practices that subconsciously generate pressure and insecurity for students who deviate from this established body and gender pattern (González-Calvo et al., 2019;Velija & Kumar, 2009). In this vein, studies such as those of Greenspan et al. (2019) reported that LGBTIQ participants felt unsafe in school athletic contexts, while McGlashan (2013) also emphasised that homophobia was prevalent in PE experiences. ...
... In relation to the first theoretical idea underlying our analysis, it has been observed how heteronormative stereotypes and labels generate differences. In this sense, previous literature suggests that gender roles and relations in PE are exemplified through normative and stereotyped expectations (Greenspan et al., 2019) following heteronormative social patterns (Kite & Bryant-Lees, 2016). Specifically, in this study, homosexual students state that they are used to being undervalued or ridiculed because of their sexual identity, so they therefore prefer to go unnoticed in PE. ...
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... Furthermore, recent studies suggest that LGBTQ+ youth participate in sports to a lesser extent than their heterosexual peers (Doull et al., 2018;Calzo et al., 2014). This disparity is more pronounced for sexual minority males than sexual minority females 1 (Greenspan et al., 2019). Current research on diversity in sport is primarily being conducted to better understand experiences of LGBTQ + in different sport contexts and the unique barriers that may challenge their participation (Herrick & Duncan, 2018). ...
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... Studies conducted over the last half-century have consistently reported the use of homophobic language, such as words like 'fag' or derogatory jokes about gay people, to be common in male team sport environments. [1][2][3][4] A recent position statement by the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine identified "consistent, good-quality" evidence supporting the need for effective interventions to stop the use of this language due to it being associated with a range of negative health outcomes for young gay and bisexual males. 5 Similarily, a recent systematic review 2 of this evidence described the need to stop this language as a "critical public health concern" because sport settings appear to be a prime community setting for members of this population to report discrimination experiences. ...
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