According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2018, 2.2% of over-16s actively identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB). In a football stadium of 30,000 fans, it may be assumed that potentially 660 fans (and potentially 1 player on the bench, or pitch) identify as LGB or T.
Kick It Out report that in the 2018/19 season, incidents of abuse relating to sexual orientation rose by 12 per cent from the previous season, however such incidents are still vastly under-reported. These views are reflected by data from the police, which show that the number of reported incidents relating to sexual orientation in the 2018/19 season rose by 37 per cent from the previous season.
As a Club…
Football clubs need to lead the way with showing that they are an inclusive organisation. It’s not enough to simply point to a vague equality statement and say that they are inclusive. Actions speak louder than words and clubs need to use their platforms to showcase their support for the diverse communities that make up their fan base.
Social Media is one of the most important tools in communication between a club and its supporters. A fan base is so much more than just those who attend games, and social media gives a club the ability to reach out to supporters, and non-supporters across the globe. Therefore, it is an ideal platform to help showcase support for LGBT supporters. Pride Month, celebrated in June, is the perfect opportunity to speak up about LGBT issues that affect football, the club and its community. It’s an opportunity to open a discussion about ongoing issues facing the LGBT community, to highlight what they do as a club to make LGBT supporters feel welcome and safe, and a chance to use the platform they have to speak out against prejudice and discrimination.
Tackling discrimination is the most important way to ensure that LGBT supporters feel safe when attending games. The ongoing use of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic chanting, alongside the more general abusive nature of some fans, can make attending football matches feel like a scary prospect. It’s important that supporters can attend matches and know that they are not going to be subject to abuse. It is therefore important that clubs not only have a zero-tolerance policy on abusive behaviours, but they are acting on it. Stewards should be trained on what to look out for and how to deal with incidents of abuse when they occur. It’s much harder to identify perpetrators and prove abuse after the match has finished. These incidents need to be tackled at the time that they occur.
It’s also important that supporters are encouraged to report abusive behaviours to the club, and to police. Clear reporting procedures should be well advertised, allowing anonymous reporting to encourage supporters that it is safe to speak out. Eradicating these behaviours is important to ensuring a safe and inclusive environment for all.
Visibility is key. Signage is a key way to help to achieve this inside the stadium. Clubs should use signage to advertise their zero-tolerance to abusive behaviours and to advertise their reporting procedures. Signage can also be used to show support for LGBT supporters, by displaying an LGBT rainbow flag somewhere in the stadium, or as part of continuous digital graphics. Clubs should add an inclusion and equality section on their website to provide a one-stop information resource for supporters on what they’re doing to make your spaces safe and inclusive and how supporters can help the club to do more.
And… the most important aspect is to engage and listen to the community. What we do will never be perfect, there will always be more that we can do. Listening to people’s experiences and concerns allow us to ensure that we’re trying our best. We can’t ever believe that we understand all of the issues that people face, but if we open up the discussion and allow supporters to share their views and experiences, we make it easier to be able to support them.
As a Supporter…
Whilst clubs have the biggest platform to lead on these issues, it’s important that as supporters, we do the same. Football brings people together from all walks of life, with a joint love of the game and their club. It’s a powerful thing. Each supporter has their own story, views and background, and we need to ensure that we make all supporters feel a part of the family.
As supporters, we should be reaching an arm out to welcome people to our family. If you see a supporter who looks secluded or anxious, reach out and check if they’re okay. If they’re attending on their own, ask if they’d like to join you and your friends’ discussion about the match. Ask them about their favourite player, or what they think the score will be. Little interactions can help to put an anxious supporter’s mind at rest and make them feel more included and valid in that environment.
On the other side of the spectrum, it’s also important to call out supporters when they show abusive behaviours or discriminatory views. Don’t stay silent when you hear these things. Challenge behaviours. Tell them that it’s not acceptable and report the incident to a steward or through your club’s reporting procedures. If you don’t feel confident enough to do that at the time, do so after the match when you feel safe to do so. Make a mental note of what the supporter looks like, what they said or did and whereabouts they were seated. This will allow the club to best be able to identify the culprit.