The ‘Beautiful Game’: LGBT+ inclusion in modern football

Britain’s only openly LGBT+ professional footballer has come out as gay. On International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, we examine if this is a watershed moment for inclusivity or a stark reminder of the progress to be made in the global sport.

Just a day before International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, 17-year-old Blackpool forward Jake Daniels has come out as gay, making him the only openly gay professional footballer in Britain. Perhaps more shockingly, he is the first openly LGBT+ professional footballer since Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990.

Daniels spoke of his “relief” to make the announcement and credited the visibility of other openly LGBT+ athletes including British Diver Tom Daley and Adelaide United footballer Josh Cavallo in giving him the courage to come out.

The announcement drew praise from the Prime Minister, various charities and other footballers. England Captain Harry Kane said that Daniels deserved “massive credit”, and that “football should be welcoming for everyone”.

LGBT+ in football

It is particularly powerful that Daniels chose to come out the day before International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, the international day that seeks to raise awareness of discrimination against LGBT+ people.

Just yesterday, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association published their 2022 Rainbow Europe report, in which the UK dropped from 10th to 14th place. Indeed, in recent years anti-LGBT+ hate crime in the UK has increased significantly. Between 2016/17-2020/21, police recorded that hate crimes against the LGBT+ community in England and Wales almost tripled, and this is likely to be much lower than the real figures due to underreporting.

Our LGBT+ Commission recently held an inquiry session on LGBT+ hate crime, in which CEO of Galop (a charity for LGBT+ victims of abuse), Leni Morris revealed that their pre-pandemic polling found 1 in 5 people in the UK still think that being LGBT+ is immoral, and that 1 in 10 believe that LGBT+ people are a danger. You can watch the full video below:

Certainly, these homophobic, biphobic and transphobic attitudes have always been very prevalent in British male football, up until today. Justin Fashanu found himself the victim of malicious jokes from his teammates as well as consistent anti-LGBT+ abuse from the fans. The lack of openly gay or gender-queer players in the men’s game since then has not stopped this.

Earlier this season in the Premier League, after Liverpool fans chanted “Chelsea rent boy” at Billy Gilmour, a Chelsea player on loan at Norwich. That Gilmour is not gay was immaterial to the fans, speaking to a broader culture of homophobia in football that transcends individual instances of abuse.

Final thought

In truth it is rather unsurprising that large corporations, politicians and other famous footballers have been supportive of his announcement. The real measure of whether this will be the ‘watershed’ moment that some have suggested, will be in Blackpool’s next game, and in the treatment he receives from fans, both home and away.

Public figures have rightly praised his bravery for coming out, however creating a safe space for LGBT+ players in top level football cannot be done by supportive tweets from twitter accounts with blue ticks. Football belongs to the fans, and likewise it is up to the fans to create a safe and welcoming environment for LGBT+ players. If we cannot do this, then there is no reason to think that this is a watershed moment. If Daniels is greeted by a torrent of homophobic abuse in the next Blackpool game, it is hard to see how this will give other players the confidence they need to come out.

Clearly the solidarity that his teammates, manager and the club have shown is encouraging, however the job of making football a safe space for LGBT+ people is clearly not done, and there are good reasons to question whether it has even started.

Photo credit: Blackpool FC

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