Credit: GU Volleyball via Facebook

Rainbow Laces Day 2022: A symbol of inclusion and the start of a conversation

By Claire Thomson

The Glasgow Guardian talks to LGBTQIA+ student-athletes and GUSA about Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces Campaign and the importance of increasing diversity and inclusion in sports across the country.

26 October 2022 marks Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces Day, a campaign in support of the LGBTQIA+ community and the increasing diversity in sports across the world. With over one million people already wearing the iconic Rainbow Laces, the laces have become a symbol of inclusion across sports and fitness. Sport and physical activity can bring so many benefits – not just in terms of well-being, but also in the ways that it brings people together. Stonewall promise to give individuals the confidence to strive towards their dreams and make members of the LGBTQIA+ community feel comfortable participating in sport with pride as they believe people perform better when they are themselves. 

Glasgow University Sports Association (GUSA) is aiming to promote inclusivity in sport and to continue to build a strong community without discrimination or violence. For them, the Rainbow Laces campaign is key to ensuring that LGBTQIA+ athletes are welcomed and supported as much as possible across all the sports clubs at the University.

“The Rainbow Laces campaign has for many years been extremely important to the association. We encourage all 52 clubs to get involved and organise a rainbow training, to promote the campaign through their communication channels and to represent Glasgow University whilst wearing their Rainbow Laces. We also understand that the Rainbow Laces campaign and its message cannot be limited to a campaign week or one day a year; and we must carry the values of equality, diversity, and inclusion that the campaign represents into everyday sporting activity. 

“Here at GUSA, we pride ourselves in fostering a welcoming and accepting sporting environment whilst understanding that there are still many barriers to participation in sports for LGBTQIA+ athletes that are unresolved and that the awareness raised by the Rainbow Laces campaign increases the visibility of our athletes and encourages our clubs to begin the work to overcome these barriers.”

Last year, GUSA LGBTQ+ role model, Jon Dixon, worked with the association to help lower the perceived barriers, such as perceptions surrounding homophobia in sport, that are preventing LGBTQIA+ students from getting involved in sport through GUSA and the University of Glasgow during LQBTQ+ History Month. The Rainbow Laces campaign is something that he believes has made a big difference in grassroots and team sports, where stereotypes and cliques tend to be more prevalent. 

“I would say that the big thing that Rainbow Laces provides is a symbol of inclusion and diversity,” he told The Glasgow Guardian. “I think sometimes people hate on that, but I also think that people really underrate the importance of having a symbol of inclusiveness.

“I know that when I was younger and I wasn’t out yet, it was nice to see sport doing that and when you saw the number of people wearing the Rainbow Laces, it was reassuring that people didn’t have an issue with it. It helps a lot to make you feel better about yourself and it’s an important campaign in terms of providing that symbol because I don’t think sport does a very good job of providing that all year round.”

However, despite this, the Glasgow University Athletics Club member is still under the impression that more can be done to generate more traction around the campaign and elevate the symbol into a conversation that goes beyond a single day in October.

“The campaign is much more significant in some sports compared to others,” he says. “For example, in men’s football, when they wear Rainbow Laces, it’s generally more impactful than maybe in some other sports, and also there is the fact that not all sports wear shoelaces, so there’s an issue there as well.

“I understand that Rainbow Laces is perhaps a straightforward way to create this symbol and raise awareness but I think we’re at a point, almost 10 years on, that revelations need to be made and the campaign, evolve. We’ve reached the stage where we are now expecting more from organisations in terms of inclusiveness rather than simply symbols.”

But what can Rainbow Laces do to help increase inclusivity and visibility?

“There’s no doubt that it’s good that organisations are taking part in Rainbow Laces, but I think the issue that Rainbow Laces creates is that organisations think that by simply taking part in it, they’ve met their inclusivity target, for example, and then that’s not being actively inclusive. Pride Month is a good example, where many companies put rainbows on their logos but don’t go further than that. 

“I think that symbols are so important and Rainbow Laces produces that but the problem is, it’s quite restrained and we need to begin to use the whole idea to start conversations. If we look at successful campaigns, such as the ‘Say No to Racism’ campaign with the red card in football, that was a really successful initiative, because it was much more active on a fan level, in comparison to an athlete level.

“Rainbow Laces is very focused on athletes wearing laces within the sport but so many issues in sport come from a fan level, rather than athletes. We need to try and bring the conversation to a wider level and audience, particularly through fan engagement, in my opinion.”

With only 43% of sports fans believing that live sporting events are welcoming for LGBTQ+ fans, it is clear that inclusion has no off-season and that more efforts need to be made to make sport open and available to everyone, all year round. 

As GUSA’s first-ever non-binary club captain last year, Hollie Fullerton acknowledges the difficulties that can be faced by the LGBTQ+ community in sport, and proves just how important these campaigns are in making people feel welcomed and accepted: “Sport can be one of the hardest spaces for queer people to access due to its common gender divides and also the intimidating nature of joining a tight-knit team. By wearing rainbow laces and promoting Stonewall’s campaign, clubs are shouting out “come and join us!”. Not only will queer sportspeople be accepted, but they are actively wanted and encouraged to get involved in our team. It’s also such a lovely way for allies to show their support in a genuine and uplifting way, all in support of a great charity that does so much for the LGBTQIA+ community.”

With GUSA encouraging all 52 sports clubs to get involved, Glasgow University Volleyball President, Adam Paton, emphasises the importance of the Rainbow Laces campaign to team sports, which are perhaps historically not the most welcoming of environments: “I think personally, the most important part of the Rainbow Laces campaign is the visibility of support. It doesn’t mean that there will be someone like you, but it does mean people will welcome you. To those newly coming out or coming to terms with gender and sexuality, changing rooms are often a difficult place to go, so it’s vital that clubs embrace the Rainbow Laces campaign and welcome everyone and anyone. Rainbow Laces week and campaign aren’t necessarily perfect and conversation shouldn’t be over when it ends, but it’s a start and if it gets just one more person playing a sport, then progress is being made, slowly but surely.”

For students at Glasgow University, it is clear that Rainbow Laces is about more than simply visibility and a symbol for the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s about creating and continuing the conversation that sport has developed a lot in recent years and that there are opportunities in sport for everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality. There are still barriers to be overcome in terms of inclusion in the sporting world, but by acting together and promoting positive and welcoming environments across the University and sport in general, these will continue to be broken down and more progress made. 


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