How Rethinking Sex-Segregation in Sports is the Key to Equality | Hudson Taylor | TEDxWilmington

Reviewer: Leonardo Silva As the founder and executive
director of Athlete Ally, I have spent the last
five years of my life working to end homophobia
and transphobia in sports. In the last year, we’ve seen more athletes come out, more allies speak out, and more teams and leagues take a stand
than in any other time in history. But despite this tremendous progress, the reality is that the institution
of sport still isolates and excludes the lesbian, gay, bisexual,
and transgender community. Every day I try to combat that reality, and the more I do,
the more I’ve begun to realize that many of these anti-LGBT attitudes
are the byproduct of sexism. I started wrestling
when I was 6 years old. It has been and continues to be one of the most important
things in my life. It taught me the importance of hard work, how to overcome adversity, the importance of teamwork. But for all of the good things
that sport taught me, there were an equal number of things
that I needed to unlearn. Sport is a competitive reward structure. From the moment you start sports,
you are taught to measure yourself against your opponents
and your peers. Trophy or no trophy. Varsity or junior varsity. And so, as an athlete,
you’re left asking yourself, “What do I need to do to be successful, both athletically and socially?” And because sport is one
of the great socialization mechanisms, every aspect of its structure impacts
an athlete’s value system and self-esteem. So then, let’s not ignore the fact that sport is one of the few institutions
that is segregated by sex. From the moment I started playing sports,
it was boys over here, girls over there. Sport teaches boys how to become men
and girls how to become women and, because of that gender divide, I was taught that what
was good was masculine and what was bad was feminine. I was taught that the girls
can’t play with the boys and that the boys shouldn’t want
to play with the girls. This sex segregation teaches
a false narrative of gender and sex binaries
and of male superiority. And so you’re left asking yourself,
“What do I need to do to get ahead?” You learn to play up your advantages, to play up your masculinity. You learn to diminish a boy
by calling him “a girl” or “gay” and then, in some twisted irony, you criticize female athletes
for being too masculine. You use lesbian labels and stereotypes
to diminish their efforts. This is all part of a larger system that privileges heterosexual,
cisgendered, male experiences, where homophobic and sexist insults
are interchangeable. As I climbed the sports ladder, I saw more and more of my peers
buying into these rigid gender norms. They started to wear this culture
like a comfortable coat. And because today’s athletes
will be tomorrow’s coaches and athletic directors
and business leaders, this system of homophobia
and transphobia and sexism is cyclical and intergenerational and permeates throughout
every sector of society. According to FIFA, there are about 265 million
soccer players around the world. The global fan base of soccer
is estimated at some 3.5 billion people. That is nearly half
of the world’s population. Sport speaks every language. It cuts across cultures and communities
in a way that little else does. And so, a scope that large
cannot be overstated, but neither can the impact
of the inequality within it. After the landmark passage of Title IX, there was a 600% increase
of women competing in college sports here in the United States. But there’s also been a 200% decrease
of women coaching women’s sports. And to this day there’s still less than 2%
of female coaches coaching men’s teams. When you have a sport structure that privileges male athleticism
over female athleticism and when many hiring decisions are based
on past athletic accomplishments, it’s no wonder that female coaches
have twice the competition for half the number of jobs, because they are not being considered
for coaching men’s teams in the same way that male coaches
are being considered for coaching women’s teams. This bias is carried over into how
the media covers men’s and women’s sports. In 2014, Sports Center allotted only 2%
of its coverage to women athletics. Time and time again, we see sports
commentators call women “girls” when they would never
ever call men “boys.” This language is yet another example
of how female athleticism is trivialized. What doing this work has taught me is that the sex segregation
in sports teaches sexism, and sexism is a fundamental building block
of homophobia and transphobia. If we want to end these issues, we need to start investing in more
mixed-gendered sporting opportunities. There’s no reason why we can’t
have college and Olympic athletes competing together
in mixed-gendered relays, why we can’t award team medals
based off the total accomplishments of the men and women competing, why we can’t have mixed-gendered sports
throughout youth sports, or why we can’t create
new teams and new leagues of elite male and female
athletes competing together. Yes, we have to be mindful
of competitive advantages in contact in team sports. And no, we do not want mixed-gendered
sports to limit the opportunities for women and girls in sports. But every time a young boy
gets struck out by a girl, “you throw like a girl”
ceases to be an insult. He will learn that feminity
is a form of strength. Gloria Steinem once said, “We’ve begun to raise
our daughters more like sons, but few have had the courage to raise
our sons more like our daughters.” That courage is long overdue, but it is well within our control. If we want to live in a world where women and girls and the LGBT
community have equal access, opportunity, and experience, then I believe it starts by rethinking
the sex segregation in sports. Thank you. (Applause)

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