Troy Dettwiler avoided group sports in his youth, but it’s not because of a lack of interest. He wasn’t comfortable in those environments as a gay man, and instead stuck with solo activities like swimming and running.
“For me, I used running as a coping mechanism since I was a teenager,” Dettwiler told CBC News.
“I grew up in the country, very isolated, didn’t have a lot of resources available to me, so for me, when I was feeling stressed or lonely or whatever — trying to sort out my identity — I would go for a 15 or 20 [kilometre] run to just escape.”
Fast forward to 2023, and he’s now the sports coordinator for Spectrum, in charge of their group sports drop-ins in Waterloo Region. It’s open to the 2SLGBTQ+ community across the region each week.
Dettwiler says it’s a liberating experience.
“I get to do the things that I wish I could’ve done in high school and I get to see other people also realize that, hey, you know, I missed an opportunity to just have fun in gym class and play volleyball with my friends and now I get a chance to do that,” he said.
“That’s the main rewarding thing that makes me want to go back every week is just seeing people doing those things and at the end they’re just like, ‘That was just great.'”
About a dozen people show up to each drop-in to play a variety of sports including volleyball, dodgeball and basketball. It’s a “gym class for adults,” Scott Williams, Spectrum’s executive director explained.
The program began last year, with Spectrum partnering with the Stanley Park Community Centre, and has since expanded to two locations across the region — another one in Kitchener and one in Cambridge.
‘A difficult relationship with sports’
Lydia Missio, who joined the drop-in several weeks ago, hasn’t felt that sports were accessible.
“I’ve always had kind of a difficult relationship with sports,” Missio said. “I started mainly in high school. I was rowing and I did enjoy that quite a bit, but I found with sports there’s certain aspects of it that did make me uncomfortable just because I’m trans.”
“I would struggle with, say, wearing athletic clothing in groups of people or using single-sex spaces to change and that sort of thing.”
Like Dettwiler, Missio didn’t stay away from group sports because of a lack of interest.
“I think there’s definitely a desire to do more than I did, and maybe to even take something like rowing to a more competitive level, but I was competing in a men’s team at the time, and that didn’t really sit well with me and there was a lot of conflict there,” Missio said.
“So, I think if I had other opportunities that were more gender neutral, that sort of thing, I could’ve taken it a lot further.”
A pilot for other communities
The program received a $90,000 grant from the federal government as part of the Sport Support Program.
Williams explained that as part of this, they’re doing research in partnership with Wilfrid Laurier University to determine the effectiveness of the program for the LGBTQ community. They’re also trying to figure out whether this model can be done elsewhere.
“I think [the federal government] is really interested in this drop-in model,” said Williams.
“When they look at, say, towns in northern Ontario, for example, that have smaller populations, maybe there’s not enough population density to support leagues or team sports, but there might be enough for this kind of drop-in model where it’s potentially different people from week to week.”