With the Pan Am Games finished and Toronto on the brink of making a decision about bidding for the 2024 Summer Olympics, the world of athletics and high performance sport have never been more relevant for the city, and for students at the University of Toronto.

The direction of the conversation surrounding international sport has never strayed far from how to make athletics more inclusive and removing the “don’t ask don’t tell” taboo from professional sport — a debate which reached a boiling point at the 2014 Sochi Olympics with regards to host nation Russia’s anti-gay policies. 

Since 2014, U of T has made an effort to take a clear stance in support of LGBTQ athletes, hosting a speaker series on the subject, and creating an Athlete Ally program to highlight the important role of gender and sexual diversities in sport.

“This institution has continued to commit to full accessibility and equity for all members of our community, in sport, physical activity, and anything else,” said former Olympian, and principal of UTSC Bruce Kidd, at the LGBTQ: Athletes in Conversation panel this past June.

The Mark S. Bonham Center for Sexual Diversity Studies has followed suit — recognizing both the need for, and popularity of, discussion surrounding sexual diversity in sport and has proposed a course entitled “Sports and Sexual Diversity” for the 2016-2017 academic year.

“Much has changed in the field of sports in terms of LGBT athletes and the role of sports in international LGBT politics,” said U of T professor Scott Rayter on why the juxtaposition of sexuality and athletics is such an important area of discussion — adding that the face of sport is changing rapidly, with nations and sport governing bodies creating more inclusive policies and embracing LGBTQ athletes. “Many national and international sports bodies and organizations are taking a stand on promoting inclusion and speaking out against homophobia,” said Rayter.

Rayter, who is the associate director for the Mark S. Bonham Center for Sexual Diversity Studies and a lecturer in the English department, adds that a course recognizing and combining sexual diversities within sport is crucial, due to the distinct, mutually exclusive, boundaries between female and male genders that high performance athletics usually perpetuates. “Think of how few sports incorporate both men and women… Why can’t we categorize athletes, as in wrestling or boxing, along weight class, or skill?”

The division of genders within sport will be a topic in the course, which was approved for funding last April. The tentative course outline promises discussions of the regulation of sexuality in sport, the role sport and wellness programs have in fostering community building amongst sexual minorities, and what Canada, as well as the rest of the world, are and can be, doing to promote the intersection of sport and sexuality in different diverse cultural and geographical climates.

“Everyday we hear about some new sex scandal in professional sports,” said Rayter, adding, “sport has become… a forum for talking about LGBT human rights.”

Although U of T’s selection process for courses approved for funding can be long and tedious, students can almost certainty look forward to enrolling in “Sports and Sexual Diversity” in the fall of 2016. 

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