Activism in 2020

This week the Fundamental Rights Agency for Europe published the results of its 2019 survey of nearly 140,000 LGBTI people throughout Europe. Titled ‘A long way to go for LGBTI Equality’, it makes for sobering reading. A majority of LGBT respondents (58 %) said that they had experienced offensive or threatening behaviour in a range of settings in the previous five years and over a half LGBTI respondents say they are never or rarely open about being LGBTI. LGBTI human rights have stagnated across the continent since the last survey in 2012 and many LGBTI people continue to fear harassment and violence.

 Also, published this week was ILGA Europe’s Rainbow Europe Map, a ranking of legal and policy provisions across Europe. It shows a rollback of LGBTI rights in some countries in Europe, a rise in hate speech by those in power, alongside a growth in hate speech and physical attacks amongst the general population. Even in the UK, where I live, we have seen a rise in hate crimes and incidents from 5,807 to 13,530 following the Brexit referendum. The UK achieved 81% on the Rainbow Europe rankings in 2016. In 2019 it only achieves 66%. 

Now we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic. 

If you had believed that covidv19 is somehow a level playing field, hopefully the stats on BAME and socio-economic inequalities when it comes to the disease have educated you otherwise.

But the inequalities don’t just stop there.  During lockdown, state sponsored LGBTIQ+phobia has been on the increase. 

On March 29 in Uganda, police targeted an LGBTIQ shelter, Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF) on the outskirts of Kampala, arbitrarily arresting twenty-three people based on their perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Nineteen remain detained in state custody. 

The following day Hungary’s far-right Fidesz Government introduced a new bill which, if it is passed, will replace “gender” with “birth sex” in all legal documents issued in the country. Ultimately this anti-trans move means that Hungarian citizens will no longer be able to change their gender identity legally. 

Meanwhile Serbia’s lockdown has resulted in reports of human rights abuses, with the arrest and detention of activists and journalists. Whilst in the UK during April, Liz Truss, UK Equalities Minister announced a move to restrict healthcare access for trans young people and to ‘protect single-sex spaces’, both ambitions of anti-trans activists here in the UK. 

Ultimately, minority and marginalised communities become more vulnerable in a crisis, so LGBTIQ+ communities around the world, many struggling to meet up or even socialise during lockdown measures, are gearing up for significant battles in the coming years. 

But what has this got to do with football? 

Football is arguably the most powerful sport in the world. It reaches diverse communities and has huge capacity to educate and to change hearts and minds. 

This is why, of course, the far-right work so hard to infiltrate football. They understand its influence. 

As an LGBTIQ+ person who loves (and sometimes hates) football, activism is hugely important to me in 2020. 

Football may not have the capacity to change legislation or to free those who have been arbitrarily detained, but the football family does have the capacity to send out a message that the sport is for everyone, to develop inclusive policies and ultimately to make the world a better place for my community.

A number of years ago I was delivering training to a group of students, and I was explaining that football is just one factor in a young person’s life, and that it cannot, for example, counter the impact of a parent’s LGBTIQ+phobia.

I was challenged by a young man who coached junior football, who said to me, “I may not be able to change the world, but I can make my sessions a place where a child can truly be themselves and be part of a team”.

A couple of years later, we launched our Key Stage 2 Resource for primary school children in partnership with a local school. At the launch, we spoke of the power of language and the importance of working with younger children. After the speeches, a father of one of the children came up to me and said he’d never really thought about the language he used when he went to the football, but now he could see the impact of his words. 

These two incidents changed my perspective completely. 

Imagine a world where football is the best place ever, where LGBTIQ+ people are welcomed with open arms, where they can be themselves without fear of ridicule or judgement, where children educate their parents, where our global football superstars feel confident to speak out about discrimination. In my opinion, that is a goal worth being ambitious for.  

If you are a fan, a player, a coach, a manager, an administrator, a ticket vendor; whatever your role in football, you are a stakeholder in the world’s most influential sport. Yes, be there for the goals, but also be there in a way that means that EVERYONE can experience the highs and lows of the game.

Lockdown has been tough without football, but as the game restarts in different parts of the world, let’s all take one action to ensure that football really is for everyone. 

Lou Englefield