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25 Feb 2021 | 10:10

Persistent challenges around fighting homophobia, leadership and monitoring progress were high on the agenda as sports organisations marked LGBT+ History Month during February. 

Pride Sports director Lou Englefield highlighted the “explosion” of LGBTQ+ sport and physical activity networks and groups in recent years, but also some of the challenges – new and old – facing the movement. 

“We are facing new challenges in 2021, with a growth in LGBTQ+ hate crime over the past five years and an emerging anti-equality movement,” she told 


“The challenge now for the sport and physical activity sector is to build on the work undertaken since the Equality Act came into force and embed LGBTQ+ inclusion at all levels, to ensure greater understanding of barriers to participation and to be creative and targeted in our solutions.” 

As with other areas of sport and equality, Lou reports that systemic issues persist, and she called for greater transparency – including in the Boardroom. 

“Our sector still lacks valuable insight in some areas,” she said. “Unfortunately, many stakeholders are still not asking sexual orientation and gender identity questions in their background monitoring, even though this is now commonplace in other sectors.

Rainbow Laces

“We also see a lack of action on LGBTQ+ inclusion at Board level. How many organisations are monitoring, publishing data and setting targets on the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in their governance bodies?” 

Pride Sports published this research into the impact of lockdown on LGBT+ sports and physical groups in July 2020. It concluded: "Physical and mental well-being are interconnected, and for many members of the LGBT+ community there are many challenges and obstacles to maintaining both of these. This survey has highlighted the important role played by LGBT+ sports and physical activity groups in helping to overcome these challenges through the activities that they provide."

The issue of discriminatory language towards LGBT people in sport was also highlighted during February. Throughout the month, the Youth Panel of Football v Homophobia published a series of short videos entitled ‘What’s the Matter with Banter?’ where young people discussed phrases and language they had been subjected to whilst playing sport, such as ‘Man up’ and ‘You fairy’. This European study from 2019 revealed that 82% of the 5000-plus LGBTI respondents who completed the survey, had witnessed homophobic language in sport in the previous 12 months.


The rise and increasing support for awareness campaigns such as Rainbow Laces have helped to combat this, with Stonewall reporting in 2018 that 33% fewer young sport fans think anti-LGBT language is acceptable. Despite Covid-19, the campaign took place again in December – with the Premier League and other governing bodies supporting – and Stonewall says it continues to see “steady shifts in support for LGBT+ people in sport, particularly among those who saw the campaign”. Post-campaign research shows that: 

  • after seeing Rainbow Laces, 45% of sport fans consider that they would be more likely challenge anti-LGBT language at live sport fixtures and 50% would be more likely to challenge it on social media. 
  • 60% of fans who saw the campaign feel more confident that reports of anti LGBT language will be taken seriously. 
  • 71% of fans who saw the campaign think leading sports organisations are taking their responsibility to support LGBT fans and players more seriously than they were a year ago, compared to 55% who didn’t see the campaign. 

February also marked the Football v Homophobia Month of Action, which was launched by Charlton Athletic with support from the football club’s manager Lee Bowyer and the PFA. Sky Sports presenter Scott Minto hosted an online event – watch a replay of the event here.

Charlton Athletic

Football v Homophobia has been run by Pride Sports since 2012, after being set up in 2008, and during the online event Lou Englefield described how the initiative continues to make progress 13 years on. 

“The FvH campaign was originally set up by The Justin Campaign, a small organisation based in Brighton,” she said. “It was the right thing at the right time – it was the first time that homophobia or LGBT+ inclusion had been spoken about in football. 

“We got involved because we could see the power of the campaign, and the power of talking and naming the issue specifically.


“We’ve seen some real change in the time that we’ve been working in football. Last season alone, we sent out just under 600 campaign packs to football clubs, mainly in the UK but some further afield. We’ve had the support of the Fare network which is football’s global anti-discrimination network and this season, they have helped us reach more countries outside of the UK.” 

Football v Homophobia has partnered with the Football Association of Wales to set up an LGBT+ supporters group for the Welsh national team.  

The Fare Network also staged its ‘Fare v Homophobia’ online conference over two days on February 24 and 25, and examined sport’s role in countering LGBTIQ+ discrimination. More than 30 speakers from 15 countries discussed ‘What's next for LGBTIQ+ rights and football?

England’s only openly gay professional match official in football Ryan Atkin spoke to the EFL’s podcast about the challenges he continues to face. "It’s not about politics,” he said. “It’s about looking left and right and noticing that everyone is different and we should just accept those differences and sport is a great way of bringing so many different people together.” Elsewhere in football, Exeter City Football Club (above) gave the strong message that ‘football is for everyone’ ahead of its League Two match against Grimsby Town.

Away from football, the foundation of rugby club Harlequins presented a series of webinars exploring key themes of equality, diversity and inclusion, and how the sports sector can help improve representation. 

One such event, featuring Harlequins Women and Scotland international Jade Konkel and former England captain and RFU Chief Financial Officer Sue Day, asked ‘How can rugby improve its support of the LGBTQ+ community and why does it matter?’ The Talking Rugby Union website provided this summary article of the webinar.


As part of the this series Dr Ben Colliver, from the School of Social Sciences at Birmingham City University, led an event on  LGBTQ+ representation in sport - his research looks at hate crime and violence against minority groups, with a specific focus on LGBTQ+ communities. 

Also this month, Harlequins are also believed to be the first rugby union club to set up an official LGBTQ+ supporters group

February also saw Pride Sports help set up a meeting to launch an LGBTQ+ network in cycling, which was attended by 40 people. Read the meeting notes. And British Triathlon marked the month by sharing stories from its sport. Read about London Frontrunners triathlon club.


The Sports Media LGBT+ website shared the important stories of LGBT athletes from the history of UK sport – including Olympic gold-medallist John Curry to Mike Beuttler, the first openly gay Formula One driver. Throughout the month BBC Sport also celebrated the achievements of LGBT+ athletes, and the impact they have made beyond the realms of sport. 

The broadcaster’s aim was to educate about the reality of attitudes towards the LGBT+ community in sport, as a group and individuals, and how those attitudes have changed over time. Its LGBT Sport podcast also provided some fascinating insight, from the history of the Gay Games to a focus on inclusion in Irish sport contributed to History Month with articles on some of the players from the UK's first out gay and lesbian football clubs, Stonewall FC and Hackney Women FC, and a look back at professional rugby union’s first Pride Game, Harlequins v London Irish (above), in early 2020.

In this article for ConnectSport, Lukas Flottmeyer took a ‘virtual tour’ of several LGBT+ sports organisations, speaking to Out for Sport and LEAP Sports Scotland, amongst others.


Building on the History Month, the LGBTIQ+ Sport & Physical Activity Alliance stages its 2021 summit on March 4 and 5. The Alliance is a coalition of Pride SportsLEAP Sports & LGBT+ Sport Cymru

The programme includes workshops on LGBTIQ+ mental health and sport, and how to set up an LGBT+ network. There will also be panels on Trans Inclusion, and LGBTIQ+ and Black Lives Matter. You can book your tickets here – subsidised tickets are available for unfunded organisations. 

Later in the month, Stonewall is running the ‘Sports Futures’ online summit for the LGBT+ community in sport on March 23, focusing particularly on empowering those who are often under-represented in sport: LGBT+ PoC; trans, including non-binary people; lesbian, bi, and trans (LBT+) people in women’s sport; and disabled LGBT+ people. 

With thanks to Pic credits: Stonewall / Rainbow Laces, Charlton Athletic FC / Football v Homophobia, Sky Sports.