Recent social developments in the UK would make it very easy to think that, at least for male homosexuals, prejudice is so minimal that they scarcely even count as a minority group any more, nor require focus or assistance in carrying out their daily lives. With marriage now legal for all, gay characters common and normalised on film and TV, and even most socially conservative political parties largely expressing at least acceptance of gay people, life could be considered quite rosy for them.
Such is their position of relative comfort to other groups in the traditional LGBT+ grouping, that the NUS recently told their individual societies to abolish any extant gay reps, and some societies have even called for a rebranding to LBT+, or similar alternatives, to focus their energies where they consider the need to be greater.
While this may be true of society at large, it is adamantly not true in sporting circles, particularly professional ones. Football, inevitably as one of our most prominent and popular sports, receives much of the focus here, and is also one of the worst at tackling issues relating to homophobia. When even the chairman of the FA acknowledges that it would be difficult for a professional to come out of the closet, and given the incredibly scarce numbers of players who have come out while playing in English leagues, this is an institutional problem. There are scores of teams across the various professional tiers of football, each with at least two dozen players on their books, and yet we have only ever had one prominent professional player come out, with tragic consequences.
Whenever I have been to see a match at my modern-presenting, family-friendly, London-based club, which even has (shock, horror!) a woman as Vice-Chairman, I have heard fairly regular insults directed at players and officials on the basis of their perceived masculinity and sexuality. Phrases like ‘get up, you poof’, ‘ref, you’re such a faggot’, etc., shouted out irrespective of families and young children nearby, are so normalised that no one even reacts when they echo across the crowd.
Such is the extent of the problem, both on matchday and in social media, that it can make it impossible to play or officiate while being out and proud. Given the UK has no examples of such a sporting figure, we must turn to Spain, where the first referee to come out openly was unable to continue due to the abuse he faced. It hardly bodes well for our domestic officials or players who might consider coming out…
If this problem is going to be tackled, it must come from within the hierarchies of football. The FA have proven to be very pro-active in dealing with the issue of racism, through their Kick It Out campaign, and could very much do the same for homophobia. It is surely only a matter of time. In the meantime, there are at least some clubs boldly standing up for the rights of LGBT+ people in their community.