LGBTQI representation in sports is needed now more than ever, and the Blackpool FC forward has turned into an idol for many

BY NIKITA ACHANTA, IMAGE VIA BLACKPOOL FC

Jake Daniels publicly came out on 16 May, becoming the only openly gay active male footballer in the United Kingdom, because he wanted to finally “be himself”. A rainbow shone above us all, and it could not have come at a better time.

We would ideally like to believe that the world has moved on from the bygone era of homophobic slurs being tossed around and LGBTQI people being discriminated against because they dared to be themselves, but that could not be further from the truth. Jake Daniels’ news has overshadowed Idrissa Gueye’s, as it should.

To mark International Day Against Homophobia on 17 May, football clubs competing in France’s Ligue 1 sported rainbow-themed jerseys on the weekend leading up to it. Champions Paris Saint-Germain claimed an emphatic 4-0 victory over Montpellier on 14 May, but an important player missed the game. Gueye, their leading midfielder, refused to wear the shirt. And as is the nature of Twitter, many showed their support for the Senegalese. The situation worsened when Senegal’s president backed Gueye. 

That gesture stirred something in my gut, as it did in many other queer fans of the sport. It’s 2022: even today, we aren’t as close to acceptance as we think we are. 

Out on the Fields surveyed over 12,000 international queer athletes, and the results were harrowing. 80% of the respondents believed that gay people are not accepted in sports, and 80% have also witnessed or experienced homophobia. But it is not only the athletes who are targeted. According to 78% of the respondents, “an openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event.” The spectator stands are the most likely locations of homophobia, and that does not bode well for the upcoming FIFA World Cup. 

Qatar is hosting the most coveted tournament at the end of the year, and it has been announced that rainbow flags could be confiscated to “protect” LGBTQI fans from being attacked in the stands. It is only in certain spaces that we can celebrate a player’s public declaration of their sexuality, but what of the fans who will inevitably and unfortunately be targeted at upcoming games? 

There is a long way to go. The world of football has shown immense support for Daniels. But Twitter trolls had a field day too, as has been made apparent by the fact that Sky Sports had to turn off comments on all their tweets about the player, but what else were we expecting? The last footballer to publicly come out was Justin Fashanu in 1990, who received an enormous amount of backlash from newspapers, tabloids and the public, to the extent that homophobia claimed his life. 

That was more than 30 years ago. Today, English football clubs have their own queer fan clubs, such as Arsenal FC’s Gay Gooners, Leicester City’s Foxes Pride, and West Ham’s Pride of Irons. While times have changed, darkness still lurks in public spaces, the vast corners of the internet, and ‘rainbow-washing’ come Pride Month will do little to combat homophobia. 

Overnight, the English youngster has become a hero, not just for me, but for many other football fans of all genders and sexualities. Journalist Adam England, a bisexual fan, says, “Football often feels like one of the last vestiges of casual homophobia that’s all too often unchallenged. With Daniels’ coming out—and the generally positive reaction it’s received—it feels as though things might be changing. The first out gay footballer in the men’s game is doing more than any rainbow laces or corner flags could ever do.” 

If you are a queer person who is seeking support, here is what you can do: 

–       If you need to report a homophobic, biphobic or transphobic hate crime or incident, call 999 in an emergency. 

–       GALOP is a national organisation supporting queer victims of abuse, and their helpline can be contacted on 0207 704 2040, available from 10am-4pm on weekdays. 

–       Stonewall has an extensive list of resources on queer parenting, disabilities, discrimination, wellbeing, and for BAME and POC communities.

And here is what we can all do to help: 

–       Call out homophobic slurs, whether they are coming from strangers, your friends, or family. Put an end to jokes which are made at the expense of queer people. 

–       Attend and encourage others to attend LGBTQI sensitivity training at work and educational institutions. The more we learn, and the more we understand one another, the better the world will be. 

–       Educate yourself about queer history, and how different cultures around the world treat the subject. 

–       Be an ally. Listen. Don’t invalidate anyone’s struggle. 

DIVA magazine celebrates 28 years in print in 2022. If you like what we do, then get behind LGBTQI media and keep us going for another generation. Your support is invaluable. 

linktr.ee/divamagazine 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.