Skip to main content
28 Jun 2021 | 10:10

Sport for Development Coalition partners and member organisations pledged to continue taking a collective and "more proactive" approach to raising LGBT+ awareness in and through sport, as they marked Pride Month 2021 throughout June. 

Pride Month honours the Stonewall Riots which took place in June 1969 in New York, and which subsequently led to the founding of Stonewall in 1989. Since then advocates in the sport sector, and in sport for development in particular, have played an important role in supporting the rights of the LGBT+ community – most notably through campaigns such as Rainbow Laces, which Stonewall founded in 2013 and is supported each year by the Premier League and throughout sport. 

COLLECTIVE

“The global reach of the Premier League has put the campaign in front over one billion people in 200 territories worldwide, supporting our wider international campaigns,” says Stonewall. “We have made incredible progress toward LGBT equality over the last 30 years, but the fight is far from over.” 

The Coalition’s collective vision is that the positive benefits of sport, physical activity and sport for development can be accessed by everyone without barriers, and so the network is committed to supporting campaigns and activities which tackle inequality and discrimination. Coalition supporter organisations commit to “building a diverse pool of talent that reflects, and is representative of society” when they sign up to the Coalition’s Charter. 

Harlequins stage Pride match

Pride Sports research has shown a decrease in participation in sport and physical activity amongst the LGBT+ community in the wake of the Covid-19 underscoring the importance of enhanced efforts to promote a more inclusive sector. 

As ‘the fight’ continues, Pride Month 2021 saw more support for the LGBT+ community in, and through sport, across the Coalition’s network of more than 180 organisations. And critically it’s not just during Pride Month that awareness is being raised across and beyond the sector.  

  • Premiership Rugby, a key member of the Coalition with its network of professional rugby clubs, saw one of its top clubs, Harlequins, stage its second Pride match during the month (pictured above). The London club, which launched the first LGBTQ+ Supporters Group in professional rugby union earlier this year, held a first Pride fixture in February 2020 and, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, had to wait until this summer to follow up in the game against Newcastle Falcons on June 12th. 
  • The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust relaunched its AQA Unlocking programme in which young people carry out social action projects. A number of these projects focus on LGBT awareness and how negative comments can impact on mental health. 
  • Sports Media LGBT+ recently engaged and worked with the Communications Working Group of the Sport for Development Coalition, which includes communications staff from 25 organisations across the Coalition. Founder Jon Holmes worked with the group to strengthen inclusive communications across the Coalition, and presented the ‘Rainbow Ready’ media resources for LGBT+ inclusion in sport. Read also a ‘Tips for Pride Month’ document from Sports Media LGBT+ and Pride Sports. 
  • Read how the sector came together during LGBT History Month in February, and how Coalition member Brentford Football Club staged an event as part of the Football v Homophobia campaign. 

Despite these and other activities, in this blog Sport England’s Executive Director of Digital, Communications and Marketing, Ali Donnelly, described the “relatively lightweight presence of data of LGBTQ+ people involved in sport and physical activity” when the funding body’s new strategy was being researched and developed.

British Athletics

She said: “I’m confident we can make important strides in this area and do much more to use data and insight to inform our sector about what we know, and to help make the changes that ensure more LGBTQ+ people can be part of sport and physical activity in a safe and inclusive way.” 

Sport England have also undertaken a review into Transgender inclusion in domestic sport in the UK, the findings of which will be published later this year. 

Ali says Sport England plans to be “much more proactive in championing all of the great work being done across sport” to increase inclusion, for example by Pride Sports, and to be “more front-footed on some of the more challenging issues facing LGBTQ+ inclusion and sport, and in particular on the issues facing transgender people”. 

COLLABORATION

As an example of that ‘more proactive’ approach across sport in recent years, numerous governing bodies have introduced groups and networks specifically focused on increasing LGBT+ inclusion, such as the Athletics Pride Network from UK Athletics (above) and Racing Pride, which was developed in collaboration with Stonewall in 2019 to positively promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the motorsport industry. Not to be outdone, Racing With Pride is a network for the LGBT+ community and its allies within the UK’s horseracing industry. 

Major events have been working more proactively too, with the official podcast of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham highlighting the experiences of LGBT athletes (listen below). Netball star Stacey Francis-Bayman will act as a Pride House ambassador during the Games, and in this article she tells Netball Scoop: “Being a mixed race bi-sexual woman is a really strong part of my identity and one that I am proud of. So I am more than happy to share it and talk about it with the world or whoever wants to talk about it.  If it even helps one person feel more confident in their own skin and their own choices.” 

In an article published by Swim England to mark Pride Month, artistic swimmer Stephanie Ramsay shared her experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community within aquatics. Stephanie talks about Out To Swim, the UK’s largest LGBTQ+ aquatics club and charity, and Pride in Water, which is Sport England’s initiative to grow LGBTQ+ visibility and create safe spaces within sport.

The media has also been playing its part in raising awareness. Channel 4 featured Paralympians Jude Hamer, the British Wheelchair Basketball star, and Lauren Rowles, the world, Paralympic and European rowing champion. “I do think that as we grow up, hopefully people will teach their kids to be kinder and to be more accepting and I think we're seeing that in society now,” Lauren told the broadcaster. 

The influential Sports Media LGBT+ website published an important series of articles by Danyal Khan looking at three areas. In the first, Danyal asked ‘How are LGBTQ+ fans groups helping to change football?’ and spoke to LGBT fan groups such as Villa and Proud (associated with Aston Villa), Gay Gooners (Arsenal), Rainbow Blades (Sheffield United), Proud Valiants (Charlton Athletic) and Kop Outs (Liverpool) about their experiences within football stadiums and on social media. It examined the openly homophobic comments and abuse which followed announcements by the clubs in support of campaigns and activities encouraging inclusion. 

Danyal explains: “According to Pride in Football, who are the official network of LGBT+ fan groups, there are approximately 50 LGBTQ+ football fan communities in the UK. There is no exact number as we are constantly seeing new groups and communities form which… is a ‘promising’ sign that football is starting to become more LGBTQ+ inclusive.” 

IMPORTANT

This process has been helped by important discussions such as those co-ordinated by the Football Supporters’ Association, who asked important questions such as ‘What has sexuality got to do with being a football supporter?’ in the video below.

Danyal’s second article focused on the rise of LGBTQ+ inclusive football clubs, such as Newcastle Panthers FC and Charlton Invicta FC. Panthers player Gary Wylie explains how the official foundation of Newcastle United FC has been working with the club. “Every week, they provide the kits, the balls, the boot bags, the jumpers,” he says. “This is all wonderful and it makes you feel like you are accepted. You know that these big clubs care about the community in relation to helping tackle homophobia within fanbases.” 

Danyal’s final article asks ‘Why is women’s football so much more LGBTQ+ inclusive than the men’s game?’ and speaks to Cheltenham player Sophie Griffiths and sports reporter Beth Fisher. Griffiths says proudly out footballers such as the USA international Megan Rapinoe act as role models for younger players – something which the men’s game is missing. “Looking at the stats, around 40 women at the most recent World Cup were out, so that goes to shows the impact people like Rapinoe are having on the women’s football landscape. They are always changing things for the better.” 

Internationally the LGBT+ community marked two more important milestones in sport during the month, with the first transgender athlete included in an Olympic team and the first active NFL player coming out as gay. 

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard (below) is set to become the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympic Games after the 43-year-old was included in New Zealand’s team for Tokyo. And Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. The Las Vegas Raiders defensive end made the announcement on Instagram, saying: “I'm a pretty private person so I hope that you guys know that I'm really not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important. 

Laurel Hubbard CNN 1

"I actually hope that one day videos like this and the whole coming out process are just not necessary, but until then I'm going to do my best to cultivate a culture that's accepting and compassionate." 

Nassib also said he was donating £100,000 to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention service for LGBTQ youth in America. 

While the question of when will a male athlete come out in top-level UK football often seems to hog the headlines, Jack Murley – presenter of the BBC LGBT Sport Podcast – preferred to focus on ‘Reasons to be proud of the progress made in sport’ in his article previewing Pride Month in sport for the BBC Sport website.

Allianz Arena

But it’s not all been progress this month. European football governing body UEFA denied a request from the Mayor of Munich to light up the city’s Allianz Arena in rainbow colours (above) before Germany's Euro 2020 match against Hungary. Dieter Reiter made the request in protest against a new law in Hungary which bans the sharing of any content seen as promoting homosexuality and gender change to under-18s. UEFA says it denied the request because of the "political context". 

Looking ahead, July 14th is International Non-Binary People’s Day which aims to celebrate the wide range of people worldwide who identify as non-binary. Non-binary is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity does not sit comfortably with ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Non-binary identities are varied and can include people who identify with some aspects of binary identities, while others reject them entirely. Show your support for non-binary people

Read more: LGBT History Month in sport – fighting homophobia and monitoring progress.