In this article, we’re going to explore the meaning of pride, that it’s STILL a protest, how we can be better allies, what is meant by intersectionality and how on earth does cheerleading come into this?
I want to start by identifying my privilege. Whilst writing this, I am a white, heterosexual, cisgender person. I didn’t think it’d be appropriate for me to write this article independently, as I wanted to amplify the voices of those within the LGBTQ+ community. That’s why I spoke with two coaches and athletes within the cheer community to open up the conversation and to really fill this article with the information we need to know.
With that being said, I want to thank Jasmin Panayi and Nat Cox for their invaluable involvement in creating this article. They’re knowledge shared has been invaluable!
From the outset, I learned something new. Did you know that the second A within the acronym stands for ally? This is because the LGBTQ+ community is inclusive of everyone. Theoretically then, we should ALL be within the LGBTQ+ community regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, being an ally is much more than a label, it’s an action.
For further clarification on sexual orientation and gender identities, please see the infographics below:
“One in eight LGBT people (12 per cent) avoid going to the gym or participating in sports groups because of fear of discrimination and harassment” – Stonewall
What a shockingly sad statistic. So in terms of cheerleading, how can we be better allies and inclusive to our LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches, and families?
For coaches, be mindful of the binary terms. I’ll hold my hands up and say in the past I have often used the term “ladies” when coaching in the past. Over the past couple of years, I have started adopting gender neutral terms such as “team” or the team’s name. I don’t know if someone in that room is not non-binary, trans, etc., and sometimes it’s none of my business. But it’s my role as a coach to make sure my session is inclusive and I’m allowing everyone to feel welcome. Coaches: it’s our role as a leader to ensure our athletes feel safe, welcome, and loved in the gym.
Leading on from that is pronouns. To have a space to put the athlete’s preferred pronouns is so simple on something like an athlete sign up form. You can follow this up with a conversation with the athlete to help you understand how you can best support that athlete in the gym and within the team. This should then be shared with all coaches. This is something Ultimate Cheer are already implementing, and it would be fantastic to see something as quick and simple as this become widespread across the UK cheerleading community. If you mistakenly use the wrong pronoun, it’s important to apologise and correct yourself. If this is new to you, it may take time. But it’s important we take that time to make our athletes feel comfortable in the gym environment.
Just because someone is called “Rebecca” and has long hair, doesn’t automatically qualify them to wear a uniform with a skirt. Uniforms can be a huge barrier in general. Just like pronouns, we need to be thinking about a non-binary uniform alternative. Should the whole team wear a gender-neutral uniform? Should you offer a non-binary alternative? Does anyone really need to wear a bow? (ok, that last one is just for me). We need to be having these conversations within our coaching teams. And if you already have that alternative uniform available – make it known within your teams, don’t wait for someone to come and ask for it.
- Binary division.
We’re very binary in cheerleading. We have “all girl” and “co-ed”. We even have rules on how many males should be on the team above Level 2. Again, a huge barrier for someone who perhaps doesn’t identify with their “legal gender”. I know that UK EPs are very much of the mindset that an athlete can compete in the category they identify with, no matter what stage of transition they are in – in relation to transgender athletes. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, we need to be thinking about our non-binary and gender-diverse athletes and the psychological impacts these categories have within the LGBTQ+ community. Event Providers need to be thinking about improving the binary structures we currently have in place. If that’s something they’ve already thought about, we need to hear about it to lift that weight from our LGBTQ+ athletes.
- Actions speak louder than words.
It’s great to see the rainbow behind your logo and creating rainbow stunts to show your support for Pride month. It’s important to raise awareness, but we need to be doing more to really open up those important conversations. How are you being inclusive to your teammates, how are you challenging stereotypes and bias? That’s what we need to be loud about. We need to show the LGBTQ+ community that they are welcome in cheerleading.
Pride itself is a celebration of equality, diversity and celebrating our “otherness”. It’s about recognising who paved the way for the community to celebrate their identity, and how much work we still have to do to ensure LGBTQ+ individuals across the world can celebrate their “otherness” free from discrimination.
Here are just a handful of facts about the inequalities the LGBTQ+ community still face:
- Homosexuality is illegal in 71 countries.
- Same-sex marriage is only legal in 29 countries.
- Whilst some countries have different rules regarding bans, conversion therapy is only completely banned in four countries.
- Those in the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to experience a mental health problem due to discrimination, social exclusion, isolation and rejection.
For further information on the Stonewall Uprising, follow the link below:
As an ally, it can be an exciting time heading to a Pride event. But it’s really important to understand that it is way more than just a party and photo opportunity, and remembering those points noted above. Whilst attending, it’s important to support any individuals who may be experiencing discrimination. Share that load, as it will feel much heavier for those who experience discrimination more often. And most importantly, as an ally, do not push to the front of the event, pushing past LGBTQ+ people to get there. I know at the beginning I explained that allies were a part of LGBTQ+, and yes, allies are welcome at Pride. But as allies we already celebrate our cisgender heterosexuality each day by being free of homophobia and transphobia. Allow LGBTQ+ people to enjoy this celebration.
Intersectionality can sound complicated. Ultimately, it’s about privilege and oppression. The more marginalised traits you possess, the more likely you are to be experience systemic oppression. For example, within the LGBTQ+ community, black transgender women are more likely to experience discrimination than a white, cisgender, non-disabled, lesbian woman. Whilst the latter will be at risk of homophobia, that intersectionality of race is also present in that example. I am a white cisgender heterosexual woman. I am therefore at risk of sexism, but I am not at risk of racism, homophobia or transphobia. I don’t have to worry about being “randomly” stopped in the street by the Police because of the colour of my skin, or worry whether the country I want to visit criminalises my very existence. We need to recognise our privilege in order to support those without.
Throughout this article I’ve expressed the importance of educating ourselves. Nat Cox, of Ultimate Cheer in London, has created an inclusivity workshop exploring appropriate language, challenging stereotypes and bias and allyship. The workshops are a safe space to discuss and ask questions relating to the LGBTQ+ community. Nat is happy to deliver these workshops to programmes or provide them with the resources to deliver themselves. The content has also been vetted by a Stonewall representative.
In summary, we need to raise the bar for what is acceptable in the cheer community. We need to be mindful of the language we use, open up conversations with industry leaders in things like uniforms and all-girl vs co-ed divisions. We need to educate ourselves with the resources that are now so readily available, so we know why we celebrate Pride month.
I’ll share some further organisations that provide advice and support for the LGBTQ+ community, and for allies seeking further information:
I hope you’ve found something useful in this month’s blog post. As always, if there is anything in particular that you’d like us to cover, drop us a message on any of our socials. If you would like to feature online, tag us in your photos and use the hashtags #CFHTT and #UpsideDownTime