Horse racing continues to go to great lengths for the LGBT+ community

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Everyone, regardless of their sexuality, should feel welcome in sport.

February is LGBT+ History Month – a time to celebrate and support the past, present and future of the LGBTQ+ community.

We know that allies play a significant role in creating an inclusive culture within the sporting world and there are many examples of good practice across our sector.

One organisation leading the way is The British Horseracing Authority, and we got in touch with their Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Rose Grissell to learn more about the fantastic work they are doing in this area.

Tell us more about the work you’re doing to promote LGBT+ inclusion in racing

In 2017, we formed the Diversity in Racing Steering Group which aims to foster an inclusive environment for all involved in the sport, including the LGBT+ community. Over the last couple of years we have been working to promote LGBT+ inclusion and visibility:

  • In June 2020, to mark Pride month, a free LGBT+ Inclusion and Awareness e-learning module was launched, which to date has been one of the most popular modules on racing’s learning and development platform with over 500 completions. The course has been included in the mandatory licensing courses for jockeys and trainers at the British Racing School and National Horseracing College.
  • September 2020 marked the launch of Racing With Pride, a free and fully inclusive national LGBT+ network for British racing’s participants, workforce and fans who identify as LGBT+ as well as allies of the LGBT+ community who want to demonstrate their support, regardless of their own identity. It aims to create a safe space for LGBT+ people and allies to meet, receive support, have fun and enjoy racing, while also promoting a better understanding of LGBT+ inclusion and providing a platform for the sport’s LGBT+ community to have a collective voice. It already has almost 150 members, with 600 followers on Twitter, and has hosted a number of online events.
  • Publicly talking about diversity issues can be daunting and many organisations struggle to overcome the fear of saying the wrong thing. We teamed up with Sports Media LGBT+ to develop ‘Rainbow Ready’ Strategy and Media Guidelines, a practical toolkit to help those in the racing industry feel more confident in creating and communicating content relating to LGBT+ inclusion.
  • For the first time, racing joined other sports for Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, playing our part in making sport everyone’s game through the ‘Racing is Everyone’s Sport’ initiative led by Great British Racing. The campaign, that was supported industry-wide, showcased the sport’s role models and allies as part of the powerful film showcased below, along with jockeys, racing staff, officials and racegoers wearing rainbow armbands and pin badges at Aintree, Sandown and Wolverhampton to share a strong message that everyone is welcomed as part of racing’s family.

 

For 2021, our ambitions are to bring some of the education pieces to life through a number of events and personal stories, and through doing this reach and engage a wider number of people across the sport.

Why was it so important for the sport’s Diversity in Racing Steering Group (DiRSG) to make this a key area of focus? (The DiRSG was developed by British Horseracing Authority but is an industry-wide group)?

In 2019, David Letts’ research indicated many individuals who identified as a sexual minority did not feel comfortable ‘coming out’ at work, despite largely positive attitudes towards sexual minority individuals throughout the sport.

The research also found that, of the male jockeys sampled, five per cent reported using homophobic language as abuse and 50 per cent reported using it as humour.

The research highlighted a need for greater visibility of LGBT+ inclusion and awareness of the negative impact of homophobic language. We want racing to be a sport where everyone feels welcome, able to be themselves without fear of discrimination of any kind.

Given the current coronavirus pandemic, many of us have experienced increased feelings of isolation and loneliness over the past few months, and research shows that these feelings, along with associated mental health issues, are heightened within the LGBT+ community. We recognise this additional vulnerability and believe now is the right time to ensure our LGBT+ people in racing feel included and valued.

What evidence do you have to show that LGBT+ inclusion is improving in your sport?

There is ongoing academic research which will reassess the situation to see if LGBT+ inclusion has improved, however anecdotally we know the activity has made an impact to many individuals. Here are two recent quotes from individuals in racing:

“Great to see your piece on LGBT+ inclusion in sport - couldn’t come too soon. I have worked in racing since I was 16, I didn’t know then what being gay was. I was beaten up numerous times by fellow workers and had no idea why – I was still trying to figure out myself who I was. I moved halfway around the world because of this. I gave up my family, friends, horses and my life because I was afraid and ashamed to be who I thought I was. So, I am happy that finally people can be who they are.”

“Racing With Pride is a platform where we can truly be ourselves... Not only have we found an amazing group of likeminded racing fans, but they fully understand and accept a massive part of our identity, the fact that we’re gay. Although we’ve only had two online socials, we already feel so welcome and included and that there’s a friendly face to talk to if we need support or just want to talk racing! We are so excited about where this group is headed and cannot wait to meet everyone in person, on a racetrack, with the confidence to be out and proud doing something we love.”

What more needs to be done to ensure that racing, and sport as a whole, is for everyone?

We are very much still at the beginning of our journey towards creating an inclusive sport for all, where everyone feels able to be their true selves.

We have done well in building the foundations as indicated above, along with the development of ‘RaceWISE’, the sport’s anonymous reporting line, but increased visibility and awareness of inclusive practices, along with celebrating role models and allies will help us make progress.

Our key ambition is to empower people to stand up as allies, to drive inclusive behaviours and in doing so stamp out all forms of homophobia.

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Do you have any advice for sports clubs/organisations hoping to become more inclusive?

At the start, we were worried about ‘getting it wrong’, whether that was in relation to timing or being accused of ‘pink-washing’ for example, but everyone has to start somewhere and simply getting the conversation going set us on the right track.

Importantly we listen to and learn from the LGBT+ community, as well as allies. Understanding the current landscape, thanks to the research, was instrumental in building the case for change, which secured the senior buy-in from cross-industry stakeholders and combined with a group of passionate individuals we have, started our journey.