Breaking Barriers: SFU study promotes inclusivity strategies for non-binary youth in team sports

Non-binary youth in Canada avoid participating in team sports due to significant obstacles and discrimination, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

Only 11 per cent of non-binary youth in Canada currently participate in an organized team sport, according to the 2023 Canadian Non-Binary Youth in Sport Report authored by Martha Gumprich, Master’s student in SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences in partnership with Nicola Hare at ANKORS Trans Connect, a B.C-based health and community program for transgender, two spirit, intersex and gender diverse individuals.

“We’re starting to see more visibility of non-binary people in Canada. But non-binary youth are unsure of how welcome and safe they are in gender-based spaces like team sports,” they point out.

Report findings

Gumprich’s study surveyed youth ages 15-29 across Canada, including 2,513 non-binary youth. Non-binary includes those who identify as non-binary, genderqueer, third gender, gender fluid, agender or selected “yes” to trans experience in the survey and don’t identify with a binary gender.

Martha Gumprich.

The report revealed that 66 per cent of non-binary youth surveyed avoided joining a sport because they would have to play on a binary gendered (men’s or women’s) team.

According to the report, one in two non-binary youth surveyed say they avoid team sports due to internal discrimination from fellow teammates and coaching staff.

However, a willingness to learn by organizers and teammates will help to dissuade misconceptions “based on current myths and disinformation about non-binary and trans participants in sports,” says Gumprich.

Solutions for the future

Alongside statistics outlining discrimination facing non-binary youth in Canada, the report details several solutions and recommendations that the participating youth suggest could create more inclusive spaces.

One suggestion is the implementation of gender-neutral changing areas equipped with private single stalls to help with privacy and comfortability. Another is posting signage in locker rooms explicitly stating a zero-tolerance policy towards any form of harassment.

A key catalyst for change would be through better, more informed education on diverse genders.

“Without coaches and teammates having proper education, there is always a chance that there will be a misunderstanding,” argues Gumprich. To implement change, they are making their report available to various institutions.

Non-binary youth face discrimination in sports. | Photo courtesy of SFU News

“I hope that coaches and teammates, and those who are running sports organizations, will read our report to understand the importance of learning about the non-binary community, and ensuring that steps are in place to protect those who are participating, and that there will be consequences for those who break the rules and are discriminatory,” they add.

Gumprich hopes that with better, more informed education on a national level, non-binary youth in Canada can have a comfortable and rewarding team sport experience.

“A lot of organizations are ready and willing to make these changes,” says Gumprich.

Gumprich says that they are currently in communication with the Canadian government regarding their findings and are aiming to implement changes into school systems as well.

Youth athlet Martha Gumprich es who engage in sports not only experience the well-documented cardiovascular health advantages of being active but also benefit from the social and character-building experience of being part of a team, according to the McGill Athletics and Recreation committee. Gumprich’s work aims to extend this opportunity for non-binary youth in Canada.

“I hope that from this, people have a greater sense of empathy for others, and a willingness to learn about those who might not identify like yourself,” they conclude.