History Slam 200: Disruption & Disorientation in Queer Community Sports

By Sean Graham

The Tokyo Olympics this past August set a new record for the number of out LGBTQS2+ athletes competing. When the 2022 Beijing games kick off in a couple of weeks, it’s likely that a new record will be set for the winter games. The increased visibility and support for out athletes has been mirrored at the grass roots level of sport, where leagues for members of the LGBTQS2+ community and its allies have grown across the country. Take curling, where 11 cities in Canada have long-running leagues and come together each spring for the Canadian Gay Curling Championship. While these leagues can be competitive, they are arguably much more important for building communities and relationships within a supportive social environment. The players want to win, but the importance of playing goes beyond the final score.

These grassroot leagues are the subject of Claire Carter’s new book Who’s Coming Out to Play: Disruption and Disorientation in Community Sports. Professor Carter examines queer community sport leagues in Toronto and Vancouver and how they have shifted the dynamics of both LGBTQ2S+ communities in these cities and the space surrounding sports. By prioritizing socializing and inclusivity, the leagues are building spaces that create new ways to engage with sports and reassess the rules of play. The leagues and their players are not perfect – they are continually pushing towards greater inclusivity and ensuring everyone is welcome to play – but their existence and the experience of the players highlight some of the key ways in which they (and sports in general) are significant both inside and outside the lines.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Dr. Carter about the book. We discuss what draws people to queer community leagues (5:39), how players have built social networks through sport (12:56), and challenging stereotypical depictions of women in sports (14:16). We also chat about fighting misogyny within the rules of play (19:26), why sports are so effective at building community (31:16), and the impact of Covid on the leagues (37:47).

Sean Graham is a historian of Canadian broadcasting, an Adjunct Professor at Carleton University, and a contributing editor with Activehistory.ca

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