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Pride (in the name of sport)

June 6, 2022

June is Pride Month, the time of year that puts an important spotlight on matters related to the LGBTQ+ community. Social media managers will have had it emblazoned in their editorial calendars for months, ready to join in the celebrations. It’s a period of important awareness in which we show our allegiance and our pride. But is it enough?

On the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march in the UK, we wanted to do more than just pay lip service. We take pride in using our platform, however, limited, to feature a diverse range of voices and communities, but we know we must do more – and do it more often.

Pride means more than adorning websites and social platforms with rainbow flags. It should be meaningful and sustained support all year round.

We caught up with Will Oster, Chair of the inclusive London Falcons FC – and former member of the SQN team – to find out more about the club and where he – as a member of the LGBTQ+ community – thinks we can all be doing more to take pride in our actions all year round. We also discuss the impact of Blackpool FC’s Jake Daniels’ recent statement, in which he came out as gay, and how the sport now has an open goal to become true allies to the LGBTQ+ community.

Will, tell us about London Falcons FC and your role.

London Falcons FC is a competitive and inclusive football team aimed at – but not exclusively limited to – gay and bisexual men in London. For our players, we aim to provide a supportive environment in which they can play competitive football without fear of discrimination related to their sexuality. Through this, we aim to be a visible and positive presence within LGBTQ+ and sporting communities, both local and national, through our performances on the pitch and our activism off it. 

I have been the Club Chairperson for three years now, so I oversee the general direction of the club in terms of ethos, strategy, and partnerships, in addition to the day-to-day management of things such as our socials. We’re very proud that today we have a very healthy mix of gay, bisexual, and heterosexual players who come together to deliver our message of football being inclusive.

What does Pride month mean? Is there a danger of awareness months being just an opportunity to jump on a bandwagon?

Pride can be quite a bittersweet time for a lot of queer people. Whilst it is great to see the public and companies show their support for the community, it can often feel quite tokenistic, as if the rainbow flags are dusted off each June ready to be packed away again in July.

The nature of awareness days/weeks/months is exactly that – raising awareness. However, without any sort of ongoing support or activism, it can feel that those rocking up with some Pride marketing for four weeks a year are leaving the community to fight their own battles for the remaining eleven months of the year.

There are plenty of local LGBTQ+ organisations such as London Falcons FC that could do with working with companies and sports club throughout the year to guarantee our survival and allow them to grow and support more queer people in their communities. Smaller but more regular and sustained contributions of support for me shows a much stronger show of allyship than a press release on the 1st June. Pride should be the celebration of a year’s allyship, not the only allyship of the year.

What was your reaction to the Jake Daniels statement?

It was one of real joy. It’s something I genuinely thought I may never see and given the incredibly tragic history of the last professional out gay footballer in this country, Justin Fashanu, feared would never happen. Jake being just 17 as well is something that astonishes me. To have that level of courage at that age is staggering in an environment such as football that still struggles to combat homophobia. It’s incredible. It’s also fantastic to see the support that Jake has received from his club and organisations such as Stonewall and I hope that he continues to be supported by the wider football community as we approach the new season and beyond. 

How pivotal could this very personal announcement by Jake be for football as a sport?

Seeing top pros and clubs come out in support of Jake is obviously amazing to see and you hope that it continues for him as like I say, he’s only 17 and above all, he just wants to play football, and nothing should stop him from doing that. However, a simple glance below the line of some of the tweets and statements that have come out on social media shows that many “fans” still have a huge issue with gay players and seeing that sort of homophobic language and attitudes flying about still is disheartening. Clubs need to do more to actively combat the issue all year round, and not just in Pride Month or when we have news stories such as this. 

If the coming-out of a professional athlete is still in the news, it’s surely because the doors are still closed to LGBT+ people? What can be done to break down these barriers?

You only need to look at the amount of homophobia that was reported at games last season in the Premier League as well to see how the doors still appear very much closed. Conor Gallagher was hounded at many games with an age-old homophobic chant simply as he was on loan from Chelsea, and Brighton are often subjected to abuse too. It is a real shame as it just simply should not be happening. The footballing powers-that-be have the influence to sanction this sort of abuse effectively but do not. That in itself is indicative of a closed door.

The prolonged reaction to Jake Daniels will show us a lot about where the game is going. If he continues to receive support and perhaps one or more players feel confident enough to just be who they are publicly, then that will be a sign of positive change for me. 

Allyship needs to stop being viewed as a marketing job for the month of June and one fortnight in the autumn for Rainbow Laces. We can all by allies every day and allow people to play the game they love regardless of who they love. If you hear or see something at a game or online, do something. Report it or challenge it calmly. Most abuse comes from fear or ignorance – the more education that we can give, the further we will get to a world where people like Jake Daniels should not need to fear coming out.

From a London Falcons perspective, what do you need from partners?

Keeping an amateur football club running is not the easiest of tasks. Sponsorship allows us to do things such as buy new kit, subsidise costs to events with other LGBTQ+ football clubs up and down the country and fund training sessions with proper facilities and coaches. 

Obviously though, we are a club with a social conscience and a clear mission statement. We would never be able to take money from a cause that did not align with this, or we would lose who we are.

SQN team members have signed the Stonewall pledge to help take meaningful action to help, but we recognise that we have more to do to be an ally during all twelve months of the year.

https://www.stonewall.org.uk/takepride

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