On March 4, You Can Play celebrated the first anniversary of its campaign to promote equality and respect for all athletes regardless of sexual orientation. The organization has been at the forefront of the fight to eliminate homophobia from the culture of sports in North America.
In Vancouver, a local soccer organization, Out for Kicks, has been promoting similar values by creating a friendly, welcoming atmosphere for gay players and their gay-friendly teammates.
Peter Andrachuk, president of Out for Kicks, stresses that the organization is not just a soccer league, but also a social service organization supporting the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community through soccer.
“We give people a healthy, active social outlet where they can feel accepted regardless of who they are and how they identify themselves,” says Andrachuk. “They can be themselves and have fun and have their sexuality not be an issue.”
A primary problem targeted by the You Can Play campaign – casual homophobia and inadvertently offensive language in locker rooms – is one of the main reasons for the existence of the Out for Kicks league.
“A lot of gay people, especially men, don’t feel comfortable in mainstream sports leagues,” says Andrachuk. “There’s locker room banter where people are using terms like fag and homo in joking ways, but it can leave people who participate feeling they wouldn’t be accepted if their teammates knew who they really were. So a lot of gay men grow up playing sports and loving sports, and then they come to terms with who they are and they have a really hard time marrying the two. They can either be the sports guy or the gay guy, but they feel they can never be both together.”
Out for Kicks is not exclusively for LGBT players, and neither the organizers nor the participants try to make sexual orientation the main issue or focus of the league.
“The whole purpose is to create a fun, welcoming space where whatever your degree of comfort and however you want to identify or not identify yourself is ok. It’s not the kind of the league where there’s the gay people, the straight people, and the transgender people and people are identifying you that way. It’s not ever pushed or questioned,” says Andrachuk
Out for Kicks also has an active social component, hosting fundraising community events, including BBQs and dances, with the proceeds going to a local charity. This year, the funds raised by events will be donated to YouthCO, an organization that aims to reduce the impact of HIV and Hepatitis C on youth in B.C. through peer support and education.
What started with friends kicking a ball around over 20 years ago has grown into a league with more than 200 players of all ages, cultural backgrounds, skill levels and sexual orientations. The eight teams play each other at Andy Livingstone Park from April to September. They also host and attend regional tournaments with players from sister leagues in Seattle and Portland.
Each team is composed of players with a wide range of skill levels, ensuring not only a competitive balance, but also a greater focus on social support and community involvement than on competition. For those who crave more competitition, Out for Kicks does provide outlets for players by sending teams to international tournaments such as the Gay Games and the World Outgames.
Out for Kicks will be having its registration session for the 2013 season on Saturday, March 23rd from 5 pm–8 pm at Junction Pub in downtown Vancouver.