Every English Football League ground displayed rainbow-coloured corner flags between November 25 and December 3 2017 in support of Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign. Launched in 2013, the campaign is a show of solidarity with LGTBQ fans, players and staff across football and sport.
“Our support for the campaign and the decision to become members of Team Pride is further recognition that the LGBTQ community is a vital and integral part of our community,” said Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore.
Ruth Hunt, chief executive of Stonewall, the UK’s leading charity for LGBTQ issues, added: “We believe in making sports everyone’s game and to do that we need allies to step up and show their support.
“By making such a visible show of Rainbow Laces – with armbands and corner flags, as well as of course rainbow laces – the English Football League (EFL) is raising awareness on and off the pitch.”
Around 73% of LGBTQ respondents to the Out for Sports Equality Report thought homophobia and transphobia are barriers to people taking part in sport.
British Olympic diver Tom Daley became arguably the most high-profile British sportsman to come out as bisexual, in the early stages of his career.
The Briton John Amaechi had retired from basketball when he became the first NBA star to reveal he was gay. Amaechi told the Manchester Evening News that Daley’s announcement was significant. “He did it in such a way – personal, intimate, handheld with a camera on YouTube – that is acceptable to the masses and was very authentic, which is very important. He is one of those people. He’s an entertainer, as well as being a sportsperson, as well as being a personality.”
Tom Daley is an important role model for the LGBTQ and was one of the inspirations for former British swimmer Mark Foster who recently came out as gay.
Former Welsh rugby captain Gareth Thomas disclosed that he was gay towards the end of his playing career. The Surrey cricketer Steven Davies, who came out in 2011, is an England international hopeful.
Another successful athlete in the LGBTQ campaign is hockey star Kate Richardson-Walsh – she is one of Britain’s most successful sportswomen. Richardson-Walsh made her international hockey debuts for both England and Great Britain in 1999, going on to captain both and winning 375 international caps in total.
Her career was capped with a gold-medal triumph at last year’s Olympics in Rio, an achievement she celebrated alongside her GB teammate and wife Helen. Here, Kate explains how the teams she played in benefitted from acceptance, and how leaders can set the tone:
“Sexuality came under the huge bracket of diversity and difference in our squad. It was more about accepting and understanding everybody for who they are, whether that’s to do with their sexuality, background, ethnicity, or beliefs. To be aware of each other in that close-knit environment is so important when you play and train together as a team. Throwaway, banter-type, locker-room comments have an immediate, strong and lasting effect on people hiding parts of themselves and parts of their lives. I think it goes across lots of topics, but particularly LGBTQ stuff. Mental health is becoming more talked about, but I feel this is going to be the last taboo. You’ve got to be in a place where you’re comfortable in your own skin. My first hockey club, Didsbury Greys, had all sorts of women playing in it – of different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexualities. I was immersed in that world from a young age, so for me, it was absolutely normal whether somebody had a relationship with a man, or a woman, or a man one time and then a woman the next. It was not even an issue for me.”
English football’s first openly gay referee, Ryan Atkin, believes media pressure makes it harder for gay footballers to come out:
“It’s funny – of all the people who have asked me if I’m gay or who I’ve chosen to tell, the best-received comments have probably been from work colleagues. They think it’s great that I referee and when I was previously officiating in the EFL (as an assistant referee) they would come and watch and support me. It makes sense for referees to speak up on equality – it’s integral to our job. For starters, regardless of gender, we’re all treated the same – the fitness test for the professional game is the same whether you’re male or female.
As for sexuality, I’ve chosen to tell some of my refereeing colleagues that I’m gay, purely because I’ve become friends with them. When you’re in good company, you share things about your own life. That happens even more as you move up the pyramid – it becomes tighter at the top, and if you’re good enough, you’ll get to where you want to be.”
While there is still progress to be made, as alluded to by the sports personalities mentioned here, it is clear that steps are being taken by organisations such as Stonewall. These steps are inspiring more and more people within sports’ to come out and be true to their individual principles.