Amy Shimmin discusses the experience of LGBTQ+ supporters’ in Scottish football with the country’s three LGBTQ+ supporters’ groups
Football is perhaps not the first sport that springs to mind as an LGBTQ+ friendly institution. After all, even in 2018, no male English Premier League player has come out during his career. Justin Fashanu, the first professional footballer to come out as gay, later died by suicide at 37 following accusations of sexual assault. The grim statistics don’t give the beautiful game an enticing pull for LGBTQ+ supporters, either: Brighton and Hove fans regularly face homophobic abuse across England due to their home city’s connotations with the gay community. Despite these barriers, there are a growing number of LGBTQ+ supporters’ clubs in Scotland. The Glasgow Guardian sat down to discuss these issues with representatives from three LGBTQ+ supporters’ groups Proud Dees (from Dundee FC), Proud Jags (Partick Thistle) and Proud Dons (Aberdeen FC).
“But why do we need such groups?” you might wonder – after all, a Saturday on the terraces is hardly a matchmaking event. There’s more to it than that, though, as all three attest to.
“Every supporter of a club knows and understands that feeling of family and camaraderie you get when you are part of something bigger,” Proud Dons state, “LGBTI groups offer up a way for people who may not have been brave enough to get out there on their own.” Proud Dees agree, with groups like their own “providing a safe environment for LGBTI football fans to enjoy the sport.” It also provides practical support in attending the game, and as Proud Dees point out its also beneficial for the club, who may see more fans involved in the club due to increased visibility of LGBTQ+ issues.
Stephen McDowall-Laing, the founder of Proud Jags argues that homophobia still exists in football, whether in the form of sporadic chanting or prolonged targeting of players. He references the prolonged homophobic chanting targeted at a Dundee United player from a minority of Dunfermline fans on two separate occasions this season.
Overall, the groups have been received positively by both club and supporters. “We had a tiny pushback online,” Proud Dees recall, “but had lots of support from the club, the Supporters’ Liaison Office, and the Dundee Supporters Association.” The experience north of the A90 has been similar: “The club and the Aberdeen FC Community Trust were extremely supportive in the formation of Proud Dons”, which was the first group of its kind in Scotland. However, Proud Dees are keen to stress the backlash wasn’t homophobic in nature. “Some fans were concerned we were ‘othering’ fans. In their opinion, we are all Dundee fans; it was to do with their perception that there wasn’t an issue of homophobic abuse at football games. This is something we as a group disagree with since we hear remarks [at] most games – from supporters of both teams.”
Proud Jags have also shared the positive support they received in setting up the group, stating that the Jags were aware that it was important for the club, “to be at the forefront of efforts to confine homophobia in football to history.” For Proud Jags the aim is simple: “We want to encourage more fans from the LGBTQ+ community to feel at home at Firhill and support Partick Thistle.” MacDowall-Laing also believes that clubs will benefit by working with LGBTQ+ groups, “I think Supporters Clubs are going to hopefully encourage LGBTQ+ existing supporters to become more visible and that in turn will hopefully provide a welcoming environment for people from diverse backgrounds who haven’t previously supported PTFC or other clubs.”
Professional Scottish football has taken big strides towards equality in the last year, including most Scottish Premier League sides signing the Equality Network’s LGBTI Charter. Its five principles seek to: actively involve LGBTQ+ people in support and visibly support their inclusion and equality; encourage the challenging of homophobic and transphobic behaviour; develop inclusive policies and practices informed by the barriers LGBTQ+ people face in sport; further include trans people in sport; strive to make continuous improvements to greater include LGBTQ+ people. With no out male footballers, it seems difficult for clubs to meet these aims at the moment. However, for fans to take further notice, Proud Dees believe clubs should go further. “I do feel it is a positive step,” they conclude, “but clubs should greater promote their involvement in LGBTI inclusive initiatives, and take equal action against all forms of discrimination at grounds.” The successes of 2017 included the involvement of all Premier League clubs in Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces initiative, making the year a promising one in terms of equality amongst fans and players.
For Proud Dons the greatest stride made so far has been the Rainbow Laces campaign; its television coverage of managers and players engaging offered visibility to the issues at play. Proud Dees want this to continue. “The next step is an environment where an LGBTI player feels safe and comfortable to be open, but I feel we still have a long way to go.” Proud Jags, who were launched on Rainbow Laces Day (2nd December 2017), also considered this a vital day and have praised the club for their involvement.
Despite the aforementioned successes, LGBTI-inclusive football could be set to take two steps back. With this year’s controversial World Cup to take place in Russia – a country notorious for its homophobic legislation – both groups consider its impact on equality. “For me, this was the only advantage of Scotland not qualifying,” Proud Dons express. “It would be great to see different FAs offering support to LGBTI players and supporters, but the biggest impact would be to see rainbow flags at games. We should show solidarity to Russian LGBTI people, and this should be a main focus.” Proud Dees, however, suggest a more sombre approach, considering the risks this would pose, “I would love to see players wear rainbow laces or a rainbow armband.” Can supporters’ groups like themselves support, from the comfort of Scotland? “We can push by writing, tweeting, and sharing pro-LGBTI content.”
Unfortunately for LGBTQ+ supporters the location of the World Cup after Russia in 2022, Qatar, is not any more welcoming. The Qatari government does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil partnerships, nor does it allow people in Qatar to even campaign for LGBT rights. In 2013, it was announced that all Gulf Cooperative Countries had agreed to discuss a proposal to establish some form of testing in order to ban gay foreigners from entering any of the countries - including Qatar. It is difficult to improve sexuality and gender equality in football when the main governing body FIFA chooses such exclusive nations for its showpiece event.
On the pitch, football does not discriminate: all that matters is securing three points. Groups like Proud Jags, Proud Dons and Proud Dees will help ensure that football does not discriminate in the stands, either.