40. Is it Really Getting Better? Changing Disparities in Sexual Minority Adolescents’ Sport Participation


      Physical activity during adolescence is linked to improved physical health, mental health, BMI, academic performance, and motor skill development. Despite such benefits, there is a global decline in sports participation among adolescents. Sexual minority adolescents are particularly vulnerable to disengaging from physical activity, and particularly from organized (coached) sports, likely because they experience a sense of exclusion and lack of safety within high school sports culture. Disparities in regular sports participation have previously been identified between heterosexual and sexual minority adolescents (aged 12-19) in British Columbia, Canada. The current study examined if these disparities persisted following widespread curriculum and policy changes that were designed to create a more inclusive environment for the province’s sexual and gender minority students, including specifically within sports. Sexual minority adolescents’ participation in organized sports as well as informal sports (such as hiking, skateboarding and cycling) were considered.


      Using five waves of the population-level British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey (N = 143,393), the current study examined if disparities in at least weekly participation in extracurricular organized and informal sports which were present between 1998 and 2013 were still evident in 2018, and if so, whether there had been any narrowing of those disparities. The study compared heterosexual boys and girls to their same-gender mostly heterosexual, bisexual and gay/lesbian peers. Gap trends analysis technique was used: age-adjusted logistical regressions over time for trends, between group for disparities (gap), and with interaction terms to test trends in gap.


      Despite continued declines in heterosexual adolescents’ sports participation, heterosexual boys and girls were more likely than their same-gender sexual minority peers to participate in organized and informal sports. For example, heterosexual girls’ participation in informal sports declined to 46.2% (from 63.2% in 2003, p<.001). However, bisexual girls’ participation rate decreased to 38.8% (from 53.6% in 2003, p<.001), which was below the participation rate of heterosexual girls in 2018 (AOR=.66, 95% CI=.57–.76, p<.001). In 2018, there were also disparities in informal sports participation between heterosexual boys and mostly heterosexual (p<.001), bisexual (p<.001), and gay (p<.001) boys; and between heterosexual and mostly heterosexual (p=.005) girls. Changes to education policy and curriculum were introduced in 2016. Between 2013 and 2018, there was no narrowing of the gap in informal sports participation rates between sexual minority and heterosexual adolescents, or between heterosexual and sexual minority boys in organized sports participation. However, although all sexual minority groups participated in organized sports at lower rates than heterosexual adolescents in 2018, there was a closing of the disparity in participation in organized sports between heterosexual girls and mostly heterosexual (AOR=1.96; 95% CI=1.15-3.34; p=.014) and bisexual (AOR=2.07, 95% CI=1.17-3.36, p=.012) girls.


      The findings speak to an urgent need to develop LGBTQ+ sports and exercise promotion and inclusion strategies, and to ensure young people of all sexual orientations and gender identities experience safe, welcoming and positive physical activity environments.

      Sources of Support

      Grant #FDN154335 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.