“Shoving it down our throats” “I don’t care” “just get on with it” “private lives should remain private!”…
That’s just sample of the comments that I’ve read in response to the Rainbow Laces campaign this year, and those are just from the villa “community”. These sentiments are shared by a much larger group of people than I’d like to think, and while some mean well, often it’s thinly veiled homophobia, disguised as a lack of “caring” either way. What these comments highlight is a desperate need to educate large numbers of people as to why these campaigns are so important, and not just a “PR exercise” for gay people.
While, as we enter the 2020s, we are far more tolerant as a society than we were even 10, 15, or 20 years ago, the reaction to homosexuality is still often negative. “Coming out” is still a genuinely anxiety creating, mental illness causing, terrifyingly overwhelming experience, and the words “I’m gay” stick in many gay people’s throats as they try to open up. This stems from a fear of ostracisation, abandonment, abuse and discrimination that the majority of gay people will have faced in their lives, even in this new “modern” society we all tell ourselves we live in.
So, if there’s all this fear attached to coming out, why come out at all?
For gay people, a life in the closet can be incredibly lonely, and not just in the obvious “creates a barrier to finding someone” sense that most people assume. There is a deeper, and possibly more emotionally dangerous, level to the issue. When you’re in the closet, you’re not just hiding “your private life”, you’re hiding something that forms a genuine and important part of who you are. While sexuality by no means defines a person, sex and sexuality are undeniable parts of our existence, and to hide it is to not be true to yourself. This is more dangerous than it seems at face value, as it can contribute to an inner lack of self worth, self belief and self confidence. Personally, I struggled a lot with this, as someone who probably doesn’t come across as “gay” in the stereotypical manner, meaning I knew that the majority of reactions I’d get would be more shocked, and therefore, in my head at least, more volatile.
By hiding a part of yourself, you start to believe the homophobes. It’s easy to begin to think that how you feel is “wrong”, that you don’t fit in, and that you never can. Much like with mental health struggles such as depression, not sharing these thoughts can allow it to spiral out of control, build up into a huge issue, and cripple self esteem and confidence. For me, it got to the stage where I’d convinced myself that nobody genuinely liked me, that they only pretended to my face, and would talk behind my back. This wasn’t (usually) true.
However, coming out isn’t the magic pill that cures all these issues. This, in fact, could barely be further from the truth. I can say with a large degree of confidence that any LGBT person who has come out has, at some point, been on the receiving end of abuse and/or discrimination.
I faced the majority of this while at school. While I had a good circle of friends, who (despite some initial ups and downs when I did come out) were fairly supportive, I still had to deal with a lot of comments and slurs, both to my face, and behind my back. While I was lucky to feel like I was in a position where I could stand up for myself, many people aren’t. And even though I could, I’d be deluded to try and claim that the abuse I faced never had an impact. This abuse is something that many people will tell you, or themselves, doesn’t happen in today’s society. You’ve all probably heard comments such as “but they have equal rights, they should just get on with it” or even “what about straight pride”. If what I’ve penned so far hasn’t answered that, I’m sure that the rest of this article will.
Research has found that attempted suicide rates and suicidal thoughts and/or ideation among LGBT youth is significantly higher than among the general population. I’d directly attribute that, at least in part, to the issues I describe above. 96% of ALL students in the UK have reported to have heard homophobic abuse in school, according to Stonewall. That’s 19 in 20 students, which is nothing short of a total disgrace. On top of this, half of LGBT people (52 per cent) experienced depression in the last year. This is not a coincidence.
These statistics (and many more which are readily available online) prove UNEQUIVOCALLY that true equality and justice for LGBT people has NOT been reached. Legal equality and real equality are worlds apart.
In football, which to an extent I believe is a microcosm of society, the issues are, predictably, very prevalent. Research by the Football v Homophobia campaign found 63% of LGBT+ supporters have experienced or witnessed abuse at matches over sexuality or gender identity. On top of this, Football v Homophobia’s The LGBT+ End of Season Survey found 65% of home fans and 72% of away fans of league clubs did not report homophobic and transphobic chanting. This is probably due to an anti- “snitching” culture that still exists in football, as well as much of wider society.
This creates an environment where some gay fans feel uncomfortable attending, and, more shockingly, not ONE professional player feels comfortable to come out. There is a hostile reputation in football towards gay people, whether justified or not, that needs to be dispelled. This is where Rainbow Laces comes in. The campaign plays a crucial role in highlighting that sport is EVERYONEs game, and that nobody should feel afraid or alone because of who they are.
Much of the backlash I see is based on the notion that gay people shouldn’t have “special treatment”, or that they shouldn’t “highlight themselves”. Having read the statistics and experiences above, I’d like to raise a few questions. How many straight people have been driven to a state of such darkness by abuse and even self hatred, because of their SEXUALITY, that they decide to end it all? How many straight people are attacked, abused, assaulted, discriminated against, ostracised, sidelined or even murdered because of who they are attracted to? Attraction, that is so integral in nature, so basic and so ingrained in human psyche that it couldn’t possibly be a choice, and therefore can never be forcibly changed. Where in the world do gay people oppress straight people because of who they love?
These questions are, for obvious reasons, rhetorical. Recent comments in response to the recently announced support for Rainbow Laces by Aston Villa Football Club, my team, have highlighted even further the importance of the campaign. There were 33,100 responses to the Facebook post regarding the campaign, 19,500 of which (63%) were “Angry”, expressing a clearly homophobic view. While this is far from representative, and only a small sample on one site, it highlights the necessity for campaigns like this to fight against an often under-reported and overlooked form of discrimination.
Far from “shoving it in our faces”, I’d argue that it provides both a positive environment for gay people, and a message of support which tells those with discriminatory views that it will not be tolerated. If anything, I’d ask the question:
Does it go far enough?
In my opinion, it doesn’t. That’s why organisations such as Villa and Proud (@VillaAndProud) are so important, in helping to spread the message year round, at a more grassroots level.
What we mustn’t do is virtue signal, with no action, and no results. The only way to combat homophobia is to take positive action to make changes in our society, whether big or small. Together, we can make a difference.
It’s everyone’s game.
[ If you want to talk about anything mentioned in this article, ask questions, discuss topics or even seek support, I’m contactable via my twitter (@Tomc2312_avfc) and via this blog. This is a topic that I could discuss for hours without feeling as though I’ve fully covered it, so I am always open to conversations.]