Toxic social media and the LGBTQ+ fan experience highlighted at Football v Homophobia Month of Action event

The escalation of online hate and the experiences of matchgoing LGBTQ+ fans were discussed at a special Westminster event to mark the 15th Month of Action for the Football v Homophobia campaign.

Over 100 guests representing clubs, groups and organisations from across the game were at Portcullis House at the invitation of Hannah Bardell, MP for Livingston.

Hannah Bardell MP (all pics Lucy Copsey Photography)

With the Houses of Parliament illuminated in Pride rainbow colours to mark LGBT+ History Month, the event reflected the improved visibility of the community in football since FvH began back in 2010 whil also highlighting ongoing issues in stadiums, and developing challenges on social media.

There was also an overview of the FvH campaign’s work in Scotland, delivered by LEAP Sports Scotland, and in Cymru (Wales), before a closing focus on the Football v Transphobia (FvT) strand.

“Every single person involved in football has a responsibility to tackle hate,” said Bardell, who is one of nine Scottish National Party MPs who are LGBT+ and out, in a total of 63 out LGBT+ MPs overall.

Team Scotland assemble at the FvH Month of Action 2024 launch event

“LGBTIQ+ people have always been part of football. Women, people of colour, trans and non-binary people, bi and pan people. They all have a part in football and it is the responsibility of all of us to make that a reality.”

A gallery of images showing the strong support for FvH from professional clubs like Tottenham, Chelsea and Leicester, national teams, county FAs, semi-pro sides, fan groups and grassroots teams was on display.

There were also pictures showcasing recent activities such as the annual FvH Awards, Football Pride, the launch of the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective and the new ‘Allies United’ grassroots training programme.

The opening panel chat brought together Peter Davey – a Nottingham Forest season-ticket holder who was recently on the receiving end of homophobic abuse from some of his fellow supporters, amid wider fan trouble at a match against Brighton – Chelsea Pride co-chair Tracy Brown, and Rishi Madlani, the co-chair of Pride in Football.

Peter was asked by chair Jon Holmes of FvH to describe what happened to him and his friend at the match in question against Brighton in November, and then assess the response of the authorities.

Tracy shared news of her campaigning around #RetireTheChant which aims to eradicate the homophobic slur directed towards Chelsea fans and anyone with a connection to CFC, while Rishi outlined his hope that the soon-to-be-appointed independent football regulator would heed the voice of LGBTQ+ fans.

A lively discussion followed, with contributions from the floor about the value of educational workshops as a method to combat the problem, and the need for swifter action when reports are made in the moment – something that technology and a centralised system should be able to bring about.

Next up was social media, and a conversation between Jon, the CEO and co-founder of Signify, Jonathan Hirshler, and the PFA’s director of ED&I, Simone Pound.

Signify is a data science firm that created an AI service called Threat Matrix, used by FIFA and FIFPro for recent studies into online abuse. They have also worked with the PFA and Kick It Out on research looking into abusive comments and messages directed at Premier League and WSL players.

Jonathan talked through Signify’s work in football and showed a series of slides demonstrating how homophobic abuse dramatically increased in relation to one Premier League club’s visible support for LGBT+ History Month in a recent season.

He also pulled out data relating to the Women’s World Cup and the prevalence of homophobic and lesbophobic abuse online around that tournament, and explained how pro athletes in another major sport – basketball – were being subjected to a similar explosion of anti-LGBTQ+ abuse on social media.

Simone described how the players’ union for footballers in the UK has supported its members on this issue, by giving them guidance and identifying tools and methods to manage their accounts as safely as possible.

The PFA is amplifying messaging around LGBT+ History Month on its own social channels and recently held a roundtable at its London HQ – the second in a series on intersectionality – in support of FvH.

The campaign’s director Lou Englefield joined Munro Stevenson of FvH Scotland to recap some of the recent activity north of the border, such as Zander Murray’s workshops, and where FvH Cymru has been concentrating its energies.

In England, the most recent grassroots discrimination stats show a 58% rise in reports relating to sexual orientation, while reports of transphobia in all sectors into double figures for the first time.

FvT campaign lead Natalie Washington and counterpart TRUK United FC captain Arthur Webber joined Lou to share their memories of the last year – which included a memorable double-header of friendly games at Dulwich Hamlet – as well as the transphobic abuse they have been subjected to on social media.

The night ended with a summary of the main calls to action – to show support for FvH, particularly in February, and again for FvT in late March, but also all year round; to challenge discrimination yourself but also empower others to tackle hate in all its forms; and to join the call for centralised reporting so that the data is as accurate as possible, and will be acted upon.