There was a colourful look to the Zolder racetrack at the recent FIA ETCR round – with the addition of Racing Pride logos on the competing cars and the start/finish straight.
Visibility and solidarity play a key part in the Racing Pride initiative, yet its vision to promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity in motorsport is far more than a flag-waving exercise.
We caught up with co-founder and driver ambassador, Richard Morris, to find out more – and to continue the conversation beyond Pride Month.
For those who don’t know much about Racing Pride, what is it all about?
Racing Pride has three fundamental strands: visibility, community, and education. Historically, there haven’t been many visible LGBTQ+ figures in paddocks, in any roles really. Raising that visibility is something really important that we’re doing. It’s not just visibility of personnel, but also visibility of allyship – a clear campaign for people to show their support for LGBTQ+ inclusion.
One of the barriers to coming out in sport is not knowing how you’d be received by the people around you. If they’re showing their support the LGBTQ+ community, then you know that you can at least start to have that conversation.
What Racing Pride is trying to achieve is to build a community, a place where LGBTQ+ people know that they can go to find content that is directly speaking to them, and they can go to find supporters. The final major strand is education, generating some free open resources, like our ‘Ally Pack’ to try to educate people on how to be an ally, use of appropriate terminology and behaviours. Beyond that, we are also engaging directly with teams, series, and organisations to review policies, lead workshops, and bring about specific tangible changes to create more inclusive environments. Of course, we’re looking to achieve all of this as broadly as possible throughout motorsport, but also through associated industries, such as automotive and all the companies that support motorsport. It is much broader than just the people at the track.
What was the catalyst for the creation of Racing Pride?
There was a small group of us that really brought it to fruition, but it was initiated by me, and my experiences in motorsport as a driver, particularly as a young driver coming into karting.
I’d come out to a few people in motorsport quite early, and it hadn’t gone that well, so I went back into the closet, and it took me a long time to come out fully. It was triggered by seeing other sports and other industries doing a lot more for LGBTQ+ inclusion. Initiatives like the Rainbow Laces campaign, for instance, I hadn’t seen anything like that in motorsport. There are so many people within motorsport who want to support the LGBTQ+ community, but they didn’t have a way of expressing it, or perhaps didn’t have the knowledge or confidence to talk about it.
In November 2018, I posted on my social media, essentially coming out to my motorsport following, saying that it’s great to see sports embracing Rainbow Laces but how I wished we had something like that in our sport. That was noticed by the content coordinator for Rainbow Laces at Sky, a guy called Jon Holmes. He’s now a director of Racing Pride. He put me in touch with Stonewall, and with some other people with whom he’d been having conversations within motorsport. Through that process, we gained other really important LGBTQ+ role models and allies in the motorsport industry, with one crucial individual being Matt Bishop. We started to assemble a team of people to start making our vision happen.
It’s important to realise this originated from people who are actively doing roles in motorsport who wanted to make a difference. It’s grown rapidly and dramatically since then, to the point where now we have multiple Formula One teams that we’re actively working with, in partnership. We have ambassadors and partners internationally in Europe and North America, and we even put on an event around the Australian Grand Prix. The impact of Racing Pride has grown extremely quickly in the profile of the partnerships that we have, and I think that’s because there was a lot of demand for it. We’ve established a level of legitimacy where people now realise that we are the foremost movement for this in motorsports.
What work have you been doing with the F1 teams?
The first landmark partnership for us in F1 was with Aston Martin – a partnership we have continued to build on since it was launched last year. The conversations leading to that began very early on, when the team was still Racing Point, in the first six months of Racing Pride, about how we could help the team to communicate support for LGBTQ+ inclusion behind the scenes. When the COVID pandemic started, it delayed things a little bit because these discussions require a lot of face-to-face contact with people. In late 2020, by which point Matt Bishop was there as well, the conversation picked back up, and Racing Pride had got to a point where it was a feasible thing for us to give that type of detailed support. We started working with them from the very beginning of 2021, but only announced publicly in Pride Month 2021 because we wanted to do genuine behind the scenes work with the team before talking about it publicly, which has been the pattern our partnerships – to talk about what we’ve done and make sure that it isn’t rainbow washing, that it’s actually got substance to it.
From the visibility that gave us, Williams approached us, asking us to be involved with an internal initiative that was just beginning around respect at Williams, which had a pride workstream to it. We were part of launching that workstream in 2021 and put on another successful event with the team this year as well. Alpine also approached us, initially through a contact from someone working there, Kerrie, who’s now one of our industry ambassadors, saying she’d love to be involved. I think she realised that it could really play into conversations that were happening within the team. We started working with them from the beginning of the year, and again announced our partnership in Pride Month, having done quite an extensive internal programme of work preceding that.
So, this is all driven by a groundswell of positive support from people in the business and industry?
Prior to Racing Pride, there were some individuals talking about being LGBTQ+ and about the situation of LGBTQ+ people in sport. I realised early on, and this was one of the things that motivated me, that it’s much more powerful when you can bring people together and have a collective. It’s something that has been very organic, from people with different roles in the industry, rather than it being something imposed by a governing body or anything like that. I think that’s one of the strengths of it, along with the fact that we are all people who just love motorsport. Everyone wants to grow the sport as fully as possible. What we’ve done is to make that conversation one that’s being had actively. I think probably the biggest shift I’ve seen since we started Racing Pride was prior to that point no international level teams, no governing body, no major series were talking at all about LGBTQ+ inclusion. Now, it’s very much on the agenda, which is fantastic. One of the challenges going forward is to make sure that we don’t swing from a culture of silence to a culture of rainbow washing; we have to make sure it’s meaningful, sincere, and impactful.
How do you avoid it being a topic of discussion only during awareness days or Pride Month?
I think having Pride Month is great. It’s important to have a month where we talk about this, but it has to be talking about stuff that is happening outside of Pride Month as well. Of course, we do lots of work in June and we use it to engage in broader dialogue, but if you only talk about something in Pride Month, there is an insincerity to it that’s noticed both externally and internally. If your company is one that only says they believe in LGBTQ+ inclusion in June, but your LGBTQ+ employees have never seen evidence of that outside of Pride Month, it feels insincere to them as well as feeling insincere to the outside world. The strength of what Racing Pride does is we’re always talking about the changes that we’re making and the stuff that we’re doing. We’re not just saying we support LGBTQ+ people, we’re actively working to make the motorsport environment better for LGBTQ+ individuals, which involves us coming in with knowledge and experience, but also listening to people within the organisations that we speak to.
Looking at the situation recently in Austria with fan harassment, what legitimate progress do you think has been made?
I have seen a huge amount of progress in having conversations that we didn’t have before in motorsport. And I think that’s probably irreversible. LGBTQ+ inclusion is now a theme within motorsport, which it wasn’t before 2019. Sometimes those steps have been incredibly brave. Think about Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton and their helmets, gestures, and statements in the Middle East; this was absolutely a conversation that couldn’t have been had a few years ago. Or Venturi in Indonesia, running their Powered by Pride campaign, which we were part of. People came into the garage crying and saying that they have never seen anyone do this before in their country. That’s really powerful progress.
When you start a conversation like that you uncover a lot of support, but you also unearth the resistance to that progress, which is possibly something that we saw in Austria. We are just starting to scratch the surface of the actual structural change that needs to happen. We’re seeing how much work there is to do on a governance level, actively working to support LGBTQ+ people through safer environments for team members, for participants, for fans. We’re still not seeing enough LGBTQ+ representation. There is still a way to go to get to that point where there is actual tolerance and broad acceptance. We have more visible allies, which is fantastic, but authentic LGBTQ+ stories are also really important, and governing bodies like the FIA need to take the safety of LGBTQ+ people seriously too, which I think was revealed in Austria.
How can brands get involved authentically in the discussion with Racing Pride?
Racing Pride has grown very quickly due to the demand in motorsport, but fundamentally it has been driven largely by my personal passion for it and that of a few other individuals. Our ability to fulfil the demand and to take on all the projects we want to do is hamstrung by the limited voluntary human resources that we have within the organisation. We don’t have the level of funding to be taking on the staff that we need, in order to do all the projects that we would like to do. This Pride Month, we were at events with partners virtually every day using our existing base of ambassadors. To grow, we need the resourcing to have more people able to give the time it needs to work with our growing number of partners. We also want to create more pathways for LGBTQ+ people in the sport, which requires funding. That said, we want to work with brands that genuinely care about our cause and that we can have meaningful interactions with. We want to build partnerships that can grow Racing Pride in the best way for our community and the brands we work with: partnerships are all about mutual benefit.
How do you know that brands aren’t using Racing Pride simply to tick an inclusivity box?
There’s always credit in a brand wanting to come and have the conversation about getting involved, particularly if it’s not only ‘can we have this promotional event during Pride Month?’. I will always give credit if there are good motivations. In the process of us talking to a brand, we can pretty quickly ascertain whether there’s any seriousness. I was very clear from an early stage that Racing Pride wouldn’t simply sell sponsorship, or just put a logo on in exchange for money; there has to be some actual work that goes into it. In itself, I see it as a good shift for our industry. Not so long ago, brands would be afraid to associate with LGBTQ+ inclusion within motorsport and in the automotive space. If brands come and work with Racing Pride, go through the programmes we offer, and have the conversations that we start, there will be a positive outcome from that, regardless of how that process started.
Do you think the conversations will become easier as the younger generations become involved, or with the prominent support of drivers like Sebastian and Lewis?
This is an interesting one. Firstly, I think the role of the F1 driver and sports personality has evolved recently to embrace talking about societal issues. People used to say that you don’t want your sports stars to talk about this stuff, that’s not what they’re there for, but I think, actually, it is exactly what people watch sport for. They watch it for the humans involved. It humanises these personalities to talk about the issues that they care about. Sebastian and Lewis are great examples of this. Talking about young people, when you look at the research of our charity partner ‘Just Like Us’, who do a lot of work with secondary schools in England, their research suggests that LGBTQ+ kids are still far more likely to be bullied than straight kids and that the vast majority – over 90% of school kids 11-to-18 – have heard derogatory homophobic terms in school in the last year. On the other hand, research also suggests that perhaps up to a third of the 18-to-24 age group identifies as being LGBTQ+. So, while there is this issue still, of language and bullying in schools, what we are seeing is that young people are increasingly identifying as being LGBTQ+. They are exactly the kind of target audience for motorsport and for a lot of motorsport brands. Even looking at it less cynically, and more in terms of the health of motorsport, we want to increase the sport, expand it for the future, so we need to be reaching those people. We certainly find that the younger generation is much more discerning about the brands that they want to engage with, and a lot of that is driven by the question of ‘do they support the same values as me?’
Is it essentially a case of you can only be what you can see?
Yeah, absolutely. It helps enormously when you have prominent allies, like Sebastian and Lewis. You have a huge number of fans saying this is something that you absolutely shouldn’t be ashamed of, you can be proud of who you are; that is a really powerful message. I do think it is really important as well to have LGBTQ+ people doing prominent things in the sport that kids can look up to and recognise themselves in, and that’s something we need much more of in future. It helps to reshape from a negative stereotype of LGBTQ+ people and replaces them with a positive role model. It is true that most discrimination comes from ignorance, or from not knowing and not being able to empathise with someone who you’re seeing in this negative light. When you replace that with faces of actual people doing things that you have a shared interest in, it changes your perception of that community, because they’re no longer kind of a faceless, different ‘other’. They’re the person that you look up to, or engage with, or have a shared interest with, or see elements of yourself in. From that point it’s much easier to reach a level of understanding and true acceptance.