Football clubs across the country will be showing their support for the annual Rainbow Laces campaign during this week’s round of fixtures to raise awareness and acceptance of the LGBT community.
According to campaign organisers Stonewall, four out of 10 LGBT people don’t feel like sport is a welcoming place and the Rainbow Laces initiative aims to reverse that trend.
Clubs throughout the football league have already shown their support in various ways and this week, Premier League sides will do the same by donning a rainbow-coloured captain’s armband, wearing rainbow-coloured laces and, in the case of Tottenham Hotspur, illuminating their stadium in rainbow colours ahead of the north London derby.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 4, 2020
According to the PFA, 2018’s campaign reached over 12 million people as those throughout the industry continue to strive to make football a more inviting place for the LGBT community.
To date, former Norwich City forward Justin Fashanu remains the only player to have openly come out as gay while still playing football in this country, with Stonewall’s Sports Campaign Manager Jehmeil Lemonius suggesting the “witch-hunt” focus on having an openly gay player hinders people’s confidence to speak out.
“For many athletes, becoming a professional has been their primary goal and their sole focus their whole lives. When the stakes are high and it feels like your career is in the balance, you just want to play football. Your identity as an LGBT person might feel less important at that time,” Lemonius, who also captains Stonewall FC – the country’s first gay football team, in the Middlesex County Premiership Division – told the PFA.
“Sports as a whole has its challenges, and outside football, there are still no openly gay or bi males within Premiership rugby either. The media tend to focus on the idea of ‘the first gay player to come out,’ and it becomes almost a witch-hunt.
“We know that one player coming out is not going to solve the issue, and there will be lots of barriers ahead. For us, it’s crucial to challenge some of the unhelpful cultures that are currently in place.
United will celebrate Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign at Sunday's game against Leicester City. 🌈
The club continues to reinforce its commitment to promoting equality and diversity and will back the new two-year partnership agreed by the Premier League & Stonewall.#SUFC 🔴
— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) December 3, 2020
“To do this, we need to work with sporting organisations to foster an inclusive environment so players who might be gay, bi or questioning their sexual orientation will feel comfortable coming out. While a male player coming out would be incredible in terms of visibility, we understand what a personal and brave decision that would be.”
Getting involved in the campaign can be as simple as wearing something rainbow-coloured or donating to fundraising events. Either way, as Lemonius explains, you don’t have to be a part of the LGBT community to show your support.
“The first step is to wear the Rainbow Laces. A lot of people still don’t understand the history of the laces and what it means to wear them,” he added. “It doesn’t mean you’re gay, but shows that you support LGBT inclusion and that you would support your teammates if they happened to be gay, bi or questioning their sexuality.
“If you can’t wear the laces, you can share your stories of how you support LGBT inclusion. Most people have an LGBT relative, friend or colleague, so share the experiences that you’ve had with that person and how you’ve supported them. Storytelling and visible displays of support are powerful and can encourage others to step up as an ally and support their family, friends, colleagues and teammates who might be LGBT.”
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 2, 2020
The Premier League recently announced a new two-year “strategic partnership” with Stonewall, reinforcing its commitment to the cause.
“Football has the power to bring us together,” said an official Premier League statement. “Clubs and communities are stronger when everyone feels welcome, and it’s down to all of us to make that happen.
“That’s why we, the Premier League, proudly stand alongside Stonewall in promoting equality and diversity.
“We will ensure everyone within the organisation and all those connected to clubs, including supporters, feel safe and welcome, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity.”