Hopes and reflections at New Year from LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports activists

Published by Jon Holmes on

Sports Media LGBT+ invited friends and colleagues from across the LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports sector to provide their personal takes on 2021 and look ahead to what 2022 might bring – here’s what they told us…

By Jon Holmes

EuroGames was held as part of the Copenhagen 2021 WorldPride festival in August (image via Facebook page)

Ups and downs, highs and lows, goals achieved and dreams dashed…

In our Review of 2021 article, we picked out the moments that mattered, the content that captured imaginations, and the hurdles that hampered progress for LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport from the previous 12 months.

We also invited a few of our network members and friends to select what made them smile most in 2021, as well as the setbacks they encountered – and to end on a high, what they hope to see happen in 2022.

Here’s what our eight contributors told us…

Lou Englefield (@LouEnglefield) – Director, Pride Sports

Cause for celebration – my highlight of 2021 has to be the absolute joy of Josh Cavallo coming out in A-League soccer, and the overwhelmingly positive reception he received from global football. Congratulations Josh!

Note of disappointment – my biggest disappointment was the SCEG ‘Guidance for Transgender Inclusion in Domestic Sport’. Many of us working on LGBTQ+ inclusion sport hoped the UK Sports Council’s guidance would offer a framework that more inclusively reflected the lived experience of trans people in the UK and which would offer greater opportunities and pathways for trans athletes. Instead, the guidance concluded that “the inclusion of transgender people, fairness and safety cannot co-exist”, a claim which has been received with dismay by trans people competing in domestic sport, and which is not supported either by much of the science, nor by the practice experience of those currently offering opportunities for trans competitors within their sports.

The approach of the guidance certainly doesn’t reflect the conclusions of the subsequent ‘Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations’ published by the IOC in November. Their two-year consultation process has ended the management of testosterone as a means of regulating competition in women’s sport, and which minds international federations to govern trans inclusion with ‘no presumption of advantage’ and ‘non-discrimination’ at its heart.

A wish for 2022 – in the coming 12 months, I’m most looking forward to Pride House Birmingham taking place around the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and would encourage everyone to get involved in any way they can.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pride House Birmingham (@pridehousebham)

Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett (@Juvelad) – Officer of HR, Gay Games

Cause for celebrationthe number of out LGBTQ+ athletes at Tokyo 2020. Japan is the only G7 country without LGBTQ+ protections and I really hope that one of the legacies of the Olympics will be the establishment of Japan’s first Equality Act. Also a mention for Lucilla Boari, the first Italian woman to claim an Olympic archery medal who came out after winning, dedicating her bronze medal to her Dutch girlfriend, a fellow archer. Seeing other countries warmly welcome their out medallists is another step forwards especially in places like Italy, which has very few out LGBTQ+ athletes.

Note of disappointment – the continued use of homophobic language across all sport, and for me as a golfer, Justin Thomas’s slur in January. Considering he’s a young man, he has no excuse or reason to use such words. Golf is trying hard to get discriminatory actions expelled from the sport; this was a major backward step. Further to that, the anger I feel when fans of football teams (including my own) use homophobic chants at opponents. This must stop and I see no other way but by issuing long stadium bans to those responsible.

Di Cunningham from Proud Canaries, Norwich’s LGBTQ+ fans group, spoke to JOE.co.uk in August about the ‘rent boy’ chant

A wish for 2022 – no more fake or secret stories of allegations of a gay footballer coming out, from one organisation in particular. These actions only undermine ongoing efforts to make football inclusive, and postpone the day when a professional player might decide to come out but at the time of their own choosing, their happiness and readiness for the coverage that may follow. We all have the right to privacy and the choice to be open, authentic and honest about who we are, but at a time that’s right for each individual.

Vicki Carter – Co-Chair, Out For Sport (@Out_For_Sport)

Cause for celebration – I was so delighted by the Out For Sport Awards ceremony. It was fantastic to see so many people on screen having a lovely time, despite the lockdown. We even got to dance and it was great to join with the Federation of Gay Games as part of their Annual General Assembly and for the event to be truly global.

Note of disappointment – I was saddened that Out To Swim still does not have all its pool time back and that sessions with lower capacity mean I don’t see all my swimming family. I’m also worried also for other clubs that need indoor space and how Covid impacts on them.

A wish for 2022 – I’m looking forward to bidding for EuroGames London 2025 and hoping for a bumper year for Out For Sport.

James Swanson (@jdarcyswan) – Harlequins

Cause for celebration – while 2021 was obviously very challenging for the sports industry, it forced our traditional and sometimes old-fashioned space to consider different working methods and ways to communicate. While Harlequins weren’t able to deliver our second LGBTQ+ Pride Game in February in support of LGBT History Month (we thankfully were able to do so during Pride Month in June instead), The Harlequins Foundation – under the leadership of Marc Leckie – launched an Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion virtual education series with renowned rugby commentator Nick Heath as our panel discussion moderator.

Tackling various topics from LGBTQ+ visibility, supporting the release of the Kings Cross Steelers documentary, to the role that language plays in disability inclusion in sport, our educational webinar and panel discussion series reached hundreds of attendees across the sports landscape. I’m thankful that sports organisations were able to find ways to continue the inclusion dialogue in a time where traditional avenues were not available as a result of various lockdowns, games behind-closed-doors, and reduced funding.

Matt Webb, Jade Konkel, Sue Day and Devin Ibanez joined Nick Heath in February to discuss LGBTQ+ inclusion in rugby

Note of disappointment – the continued, sensationalistic approach to identifying the Premier League’s first LGBTQ+ male professional player. While it’s important to discuss the need for visibility in arguably the world’s biggest sporting platform, the blank silhouette narrative evokes a feeling of a medieval “witch hunt” instead of a meaningful inclusive approach. Instead, continued focus should be made across the game to ensure that amateur and professional environments are safe, inclusive, and supportive for all communities.

A wish for 2022 – that we have more opportunities to gather in-person to champion diversity, celebrate progress, and drive meaningful change. From the return of conferences, such as the Include Summit and Leaders Week London, to the recommencement of the Pride in London parade and LGBTQ+ themed matchdays, there is much to look forward to!

Hugh Torrance (@hughlio) – LEAP Sports Scotland

Cause for celebration – I’d celebrate with pride how strongly the Scottish LGBTIQ+ sporting community is recovering from the pandemic. Sports clubs are expanding, membership is up, and more community sports leaders are emerging. There’s an appetite for lots more physical activity initiatives in local communities; initiatives such as Get Out Glasgow and Trans Active, both of which have seen incredible growth in the past year. It was also pretty amazing to be part of EuroGames in Copenhagen, despite the restrictions.

Note of disappointment – the biggest by far was the publication of the Sports Council Equality Group (SCEG) Guidance for Transgender Inclusion in Domestic Sport. The guidance ignored trans people’s experiences, ignored equality and human rights perspectives, and cherry-picked research and policy in reaching its regressive conclusion that the inclusion of trans people, fairness and safety cannot co-exist in sport. This was a missed opportunity to improve inclusion and increase participation of trans people in sport, and a shameful moment for UK sport.

A wish for 2022 – I have a LOT of hopes and wishes for 2022. We’ve recently announced the Qeltic Games, which is a new multisport tournament for the UK, and there’s a lot of work ahead to plan and develop that. I’m excited that Pride Youth Games in Largs will finally take place after two years of delays. But mostly, I think that the spotlight on LGBTIQ+ issues in and through sport has never been stronger and I look forward to opportunities to be louder, prouder and more demanding in 2022!

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by @qelticgames

Andrew Henderson (@ahenderson96) – Pride of the Terraces

Cause for celebration – there’s so much you could potentially highlight from 2021, but for me the stand-out thing was Josh Cavallo’s coming out – and not just that it happened, but the reaction to it. Josh received so much support from players, clubs and fans all over the world and that was so heartwarming to see. It was nice to see that it was possible for so many allies to rally around the LGBTQIA+ community…

Note of disappointment – … especially given the seemingly ever-rising levels of transphobia on social media, mainstream media and even policy makers in and out of sport that we’ve seen.

A wish for 2022 – fingers crossed with huge, global events like the Commonwealth Games and football’s men’s World Cup coming up in 2022, we see more of that support from people highlighting the injustices and inequality people still face like we did at the Tokyo Olympics – you never know just how much of a difference that will make in the short or long term.

Amazin LeThi (@amazinlethi) – Stonewall Sport Champion

Cause for celebration – in 2021, LGBTQ+ history was made with the first time a World Pride and EuroGames had an ambassador track with Asian LGBTQ+ athletes. It was a proud moment to be an ambassador for Copenhagen 2021 and champion Asian LGBTQ+ sports equality.

Note of disappointment – over the past year, the greatest disappointment and setback in sports equality has been the rolling back of trans inclusion in sports, with 10 states in the USA banning trans and nonbinary youth from participating in sports.

A wish for 2022 – that more elite athletes will feel comfortable to come out publicly and bring their whole self to every game. I also hope the athletic community continues to champion trans inclusion in sports, and that advocates on the ground across the USA can find a way to overturn the anti-trans sports bills. 2022 is a huge year for sports around the world from the Beijing Winter Olympics to the Qatar World Cup. Athletes, sports organisations and brands should use this moment to raise their voices for LGBTQ+ equality.

EuroGames 2022 will be held in Nijmegen in late July – watch Copenhagen hand over the baton

Jon Holmes (@jonboy79) – lead of Sports Media LGBT+

Cause for celebration – what energises me most is when sport helps to create a world in which LGBTQ+ people can be free, particularly in those countries where we are still criminalised for our sexual orientation or gender identity. Seeing two former F1 champions, both straight allies, take a public stand for LGBTQ+ equality in Hungary and in the Middle East was so powerful. As a director of Racing Pride, it gave me enormous satisfaction to see the organisation namechecked in the conversations that followed Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton’s rainbow activations.

Immense credit should go to Richard Morris, who is already driving change throughout motorsport just two years after launching the organisation. Rights and legislation are incredibly difficult to shift – the Erasing 76 Crimes website notes that only one nation, Bhutan, repealed an anti-gay law in 2021. Over 70 still criminalise being LGBTQ+. Sport certainly can’t solve these injustices on its own but it can put pressure on where it’s needed. If ‘We Race As One’ is to be more than just a slogan, F1 can’t take its foot off the gas now.

Note of disappointment – UEFA’s clumsy handling of Pride month was a real calamity and demonstrated how flimsy their #EqualGame initiative is when it comes to LGBTQ+ inclusion. Even Pernille Harder – an ambassador on the campaign – called out European football’s governing body for its ineffectiveness when Hungary’s government enacted new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation during its hosting of Euro 2020 matches in Budapest. The relationship between football bigwigs and Hungarian PM Viktor Orban looked very cosy indeed, and it was left to players, fans and the media to stick up for human rights while all that came out of Nyon was a contradictory ‘UEFA Respects the Rainbow’ statement. I hope FIFA have taken some learnings from this shambolic episode because the scrutiny they will face around Qatar 2022 will be even greater than what UEFA experienced.

Hugh Torrance from Football v Homophobia Scotland was interviewed about UEFA’s hamfisted approach by Sky Sports News in June

A wish for 2022 – I love the World Cup so much but the tone of conversation so far around LGBTQ+ inclusion and Qatar doesn’t fill me with much hope. It will need a co-ordinated effort from national FAs whose teams have qualified to get serious discussion of human rights on the agenda at the highest level – to their credit, Denmark have made some strong first steps, and now it needs the likes of England, Germany and other major nations to stand alongside them.

Before then, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will be a summer highlight and if Pride House Birmingham receives the level of support it deserves, sport can help to chip away at the damaging legacy of British colonialism – the ongoing criminalisation of same-sex relationships and the white supremacy that put these laws on the statute books in the first place. We must listen attentively to the human rights defenders from these Commonwealth countries, and assist them in finding freedom.

Sports Media LGBT+ is a network, advocacy, and consultancy group that is helping to build a community of LGBTQ+ people and allies in sport. We’re also a digital publisher. Learn more about us here.

LGBTQ+ and have a role in sports? Your visibility will inspire other people – sharing your story can be hugely rewarding and you don’t have to be famous to make a positive and lasting impact. We encourage you to start a conversation with us, in confidence, and we’ll provide the best advice on navigating the media as part of your journey so that you retain control of your personal narrative.

Jon Holmes

Digital Sports Editor