Courage is celebrated as Football v Homophobia Month of Action 2023 launches

Published by Jon Holmes on

Out LGBTQ+ players Jahmal Howlett-Mundle and Parker Dunn cover locker-room culture, changing clubs and coming out again, and the impact of discriminatory abuse, in event held at Leicester City FC; people at all levels of the game urged to show support for the campaign in February…

By Jon Holmes

Lou Englefield, Parker Dunn and Jahmal Howlett-Mundle in discussion at the Football v Homophobia Month of Action launch event

The big effect that relatively small actions can have in helping LGBTQ+ people to achieve their best in football were highlighted in abundance at the launch event for the Football v Homophobia Month of Action.

Out footballers Jahmal Howlett-Mundle and Parker Dunn shared what they have learned from their experiences for the benefit of those attending the event, which included representatives of clubs and county FAs.

The venue for the 2023 launch was the Champions Club at Leicester City’s King Power Stadium. City won in the Professional Game category at last year’s FvH Awards with the club’s LGBTQ+ and allies fans group Foxes Pride picking up the Supporters Group accolade.

The co-founder and chair of Foxes Pride, Graeme Smith, was joined by Leicester Wildecats FC player Callum Prince – recently appointed to Leicestershire and Rutland FA’s Inclusion Advisory Group – and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC’s ED&I manager Gurpri Bains for a conversation about action points that can reduce LGBTQ+ discrimination.

Jahmal came out as bisexual to his team-mates at his former club Sheppey United in July 2021, with a video of that moment later shared on social media with his permission.

Since then, he has generously spoken to various media outlets about his football journey, signed for Ramsgate FC last summer after winning the league and three cups with Sheppey, appeared on BBC TV’s Extraordinary Portraits and used his platform for education.

Playing at Step 4 of the National League System, he is the next highest-ranked player after Jake Daniels in the men’s pro and semi-pro tiers in England to be publicly out.

Hear from Jahmal and Gurpri on the February 2023 episode of the FvH Podcast

He hopes non-league clubs take the opportunity to activate the FvH campaign this month, with an obvious first step being to ensure that it’s talked about.

“Sometimes the most difficult conversations do bring the most beautiful outcomes,” he told Sports Media LGBT+.

“Don’t be afraid to speak about things that you’re not really sure about. We’re all human beings – people will make mistakes, whether that be with pronouns, assumptions or stereotypes.

“Be brave enough to have the conversations within your clubs and also celebrate the diversity and inclusion work that is already happening.”

Back in Pride Month last year, Jahmal spoke alongside Parker at an event to launch the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective, an industry network group for those working in the game. The pair were reunited at the King Power, with Parker – who is trans – having also moved clubs for 2022/23.

He described some of the challenges that come with introducing yourself to new team-mates.

“When I first turned up, some people knew me already but it’s always about coming out again – my pronouns are different, and they might have known me from a previous name,” he told FvH’s Lou Englefield.

“There’s gendered language in the game as well – it might be a shout of ‘good girl!’, for example. For me, some words might not be offensive but they might trigger my gender dysphoria and it’s hard for me.

“Coming out again is fine, I don’t mind that, and it educates people along the way. The easiest way for me to come out is in a group chat and intro my name and pronouns there. Having that humour side is helpful – I’m like ‘hey, just to let you know, I’m trans, lucky me!’ It’s a nice way to break it to other people amd humour helps them to see the human side.”

Particularly in men’s football, the role that anti-LGBTQ+ language mischaracterised as ‘banter’ has in making gay and bi players feel unwelcome is often discussed.

Jahmal says creating spaces in which everyone is in on whatever joke is being told is crucial.

“If you’ve ever been in any type of football dressing room, it can be a bit crazy at times,” he says.

“There’s usually someone who starts off the jokes. If you can get to the point where your dressing room, changing room, staff room, whatever it may be, is comfortable enough to make jokes in and it’s not at somebody’s expense where they’re going to be personally offended or you know you probably shouldn’t have said something along those lines, then I think that’s definitely a way to start.

“To be able to have a more relaxed atmosphere where you’re able to use humour to change behaviours… you want to be in a place where you don’t feel rigid because people pick up on that and it feeds into the environment.”

Parker continues to show a light touch on TikTok, where he has built a big audience by posting fun videos about navigating football as a trans guy.

“One of my friends said, why don’t you start a TikTok and share education? I couldn’t see any other people in the game who were at the higher levels who identify as he/him trans and were open about it.

“I thought if I can’t see it, I’m going to have to be it. That was hard but I’m quite creative and it’s a platform to be yourself on. You find out there are so many other people who are like you.

“Now, young LGBTQ+ people say to me ‘you’re the reason why I picked up my boots again’ and ‘you’re the reason why I decided to join a team’. They say if it wasn’t for seeing you and your journey, I wouldn’t have done it. That gives me goosebumps.

“There is a lot of hate online and it’s hard to see that but the positives completely outweigh it. There are so many kids and young people who message me, telling me about their situation and story. I say it’s OK, and if I can be open about it, maybe one day you can too.”

Parker is excited by the rapid growth of the women’s game but recognises that outside of the WSL and higher tiers, there isn’t much budget, and certainly not for ED&I. However, he feels there are still a lot of simple things that clubs can do.

“Lower league is a lot harder because you lack money and other things – sometimes you don’t even have mental health resources.

“But education is important. Team meetings help too, at certain points in the season – not making a massive deal out of it, but just letting people know that if anyone wants to use different pronouns, that’s OK and we’ll try our best to be inclusive with that.

“Things like going to trials and having a section for name and your pronouns on the trial sheet when you’re filling it out, or something you can put on your shirt [to reflect your pronouns]…. sometimes it’s just the small things.”
Check out the longer video Parker made for his YouTube channel to mark Trans Awareness Week in November

Jahmal is one of very few people who are LGBTQ+ in the pro or semi-pro men’s game and out on the pitch. He told the event audience about two incidents of homophobic discrimination that he was subjected to last season, and how one of them went to court, resulting in a fine for the opposition player responsible.

Jahmal spoke powerfully about the emotional strain that put on him but he has no regrets about sharing his truth, saying it has not only brought him more confidence but helped others around him to open up about the various challenges in their own lives. 

“I had an amazing management and team-mates around me at Sheppey so I was very thankful for that,” he said.

“It allowed other people to share their own personal experiences as well. Yes, I was the only LGBT+ player or member of staff but other people opened up about areas that they said they wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing if I hadn’t have shared my own experiences.

“That was really heartwarming. I didn’t think that people were going through some of the things that they went through by looking at them on the surface. Somebody looks fine on the outside but internally they may be having a really difficult time.”

Meanwhile, the earlier panel chat with Graeme, Callum and Gurpri explored the considerable contribution that LGBTQ+ fan groups can make when they get the chance to work in close partnership with their clubs, as has happened at Leicester.

At Wolves, where Gurpri has been in post at Wolves for around three months, the approach has had to be different because the Premier League club doesn’t yet have a fully-fledged equivalent to Foxes Pride. Instead, the wider Molineux family will again be invited to participate in ‘One Pack’ Week later in the season when all the club’s ongoing ED&I work will be celebrated and amplified.

Callum has recently been liaising closely with the club he has supported all his life, Burton Albion FC, following reports of homophobic language heard at Brewers matches. The League One club issued a statement addressing this last month and earlier in the season, for Rainbow Laces, they published a personal blog by Callum in which he described how an incident of homophobic abuse that he experienced while running the line in a match at his previous grassroots club made him feel.

He has since moved to play for Leicester Wildecats FC, the city’s local LGBTQ+-inclusive football team, where he has rediscovered his passion for the game.

The Wildecats are among over 120 clubs that are already displayed on the 2023 Champions page on the FvH website for the Month of Action. All have contacted the campaign to say that they will be activating in February.

Join in by emailing – and if you’re a league, county FA or other organisation, you can take part too. Just get in touch!

Interested in the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective? It’s a welcoming space to be part of, and a chance to network with other people from the community who are in the game. Visit the website to learn more.

And don’t forget it’s FvH Awards Night in Manchester on Friday 24 February – tickets on sale here.

Recommended content…

For Mirror Football, by Jacob Leeks – Special Report: Football’s battle against homophobia amid “worst possible start to year”

For ESPN, by Leon Imber – ‘I’m tired of being afraid’ – Three gay sportsmen on the joy of coming out

Listen to FvH campaign director Lou Englefield on the Upfront podcast (from 15 mins in)

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Jon Holmes

Digital Sports Editor