The Sports Media LGBT+ Review of 2023: World Cup vibes, love stories, trans joy and much more

Published by Jon Holmes on

With an electrifying FIFA Women’s World Cup at its centre, the year just gone in sports was full of ups and downs for LGBTQ+ people; in our traditional look back at the last 12 months, there are a lot of football mentions but also some rugby union, cricket, curling and miscellaneous moments that caught our attention…

By Jon Holmes

What did you celebrate in LGBTQ+ sports in 2023?

Welcome to Sports Media LGBT+’s fourth annual Review of the Year article!

As usual, it’s been a bit of a scramble to compile this during the busy holiday season.

But it’s a feature we love to put together, because each year there is always so much effort put in by athletes and advocates who are helping to make their sports more welcoming and inclusive.

The same can be said for members of our family of journalists and content creators who are using the platforms and tools available to them to tell stories of empowerment and ensure achievements don’t go unsung.

It’s also critical to shine a light on issues in sport that conspire to hold our community back and we salute those who undertake this work, which can often be emotionally exhausting.

From our network group to everyone who’s contributing and making a difference out there, we’re truly grateful (and apologies in advance if we missed something below that matters to you – tell us about it!)

So let’s get stuck into 2023 one last time….

Going month-by-month, selecting a headline story, other assorted news lines and adding some recommended videos to watch, here’s our look back at January to December….

January: Homophobic chants are history repeating – but at last, action

2023 was barely a few hours old when an unwelcome sound returned to English football – ‘that chant’, the tiresome one used to insult Chelsea fans and anyone associated with the Blues.

A section of Nottingham Forest supporters sang it; then a few Manchester United fans audibly directed it at Frank Lampard; then in another FA Cup tie, some Man City fans shouted it too.

The FA swiftly issued a letter to clubs across the country warning of the consequences of homophobic chanting; Wolves, Leeds and Luton would all incur six-figure fines in the months that followed.

The significant abuse at the Forest vs Brighton game later in the year shows this form of discrimination sadly persists. Football v Homophobia has called for clubs to be more “targeted” in their pre-match communications if they are to effectively combat the problem.

Also in January… former New Zealand international Campbell Johnstone is the first All Black to come out as gay; the LGBTQ+ sports world pays tribute to athlete and activist Simon Dunn, gone too soon; the Elite Ice Hockey League holds its fourth Pride Weekend (2024 edition coming up on 27/28 Jan); in the NHL, a handful of players objecting overshadows Pride Nights; boxer Chris Eubank Jr wears a rainbow armband at the weigh-in following homophobic insinuations by opponent Liam Smith; Flo Lloyd-Hughes interviews power couple Sam Kerr and Kristie Mewis for Gaffer; SMLGBT+ faves Beth Fisher and Anita Asante get married!

February: At last, a big gay gala occasion for football!

Since it launched back in 2020, the Football v Homophobia Awards night had been affected by the constraints of Covid – until 2023.

This year, the celebration of being LGBTQ+ in the game was a joyous get-together, with gladrags, dancing and uplifting speeches. “This is our world!” proclaimed Chris Paouros, accepting the Fans Group award with Tottenham’s Proud Lilywhites.

Big-brand sponsors and network TV coverage helped to elevate the event’s reach and prestige and as FvH Hero award winner Charlotte Galloway put it, “we were all united as one huge family”.

The 2024 edition promises to be even bigger and better – don’t forget to nominate someone (or even yourself!) before the deadline on 7 January.

Also in February… a busy FvH Month of Action features a launch event at Leicester City, fixtures dedicated to the campaign and even drag queens at Newark and Sherwood United FC; Czech Republic winger Jakub Jankto is the first active male international footballer to come out as gay; over in the U.S., Anderson Comas does the same in baseball; the 10-year anniversary of Robbie Rogers’ “letter of life” is marked in LGBT+ History Month; former England cricketer Sarah Taylor shares baby news on social media and has to educate many of her followers; Zander Murray, Lloyd Wilson and Dan Jervis reflect on their journeys in sport in an ESPN feature written by Leon Imber; Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold features in a club-produced film about LGBTQ+ community organisation Homotopia

Homotopia’s Olivia Graham, an Anfield regular and an out bi woman, talks about being a Liverpool fan who’s LGBTQ+ with Trent Alexander-Arnold

March: Making a documentary and making history

Zander Murray had only been publicly out in men’s football for six months when a documentary about his experiences was aired on BBC Scotland.

There have been several films on the topic of homophobia in the sport but ‘Disclosure: Out on the Pitch’ felt distinctly fresh – interwoven with Murray’s memories, and also featuring out gay referee Lloyd Wilson among others, it had a personal touch and went deeper into the psychology of being closeted.

Later, the month closed with another landmark LGBTQ+ moment from TRUK United FC, this time from their all-transmasculine team – thought to be the first such side fielded in Europe.

Images from the night went viral and conveyed the sheer elation of being free to play without fear or discomfort. Articles published before and after the event at Dulwich Hamlet FC, such as by Andrew Henderson for Pride of the Terraces, captured the significance.

Also in March… Football v Transphobia campaign lead Natalie Washington made a guest appearance on the superb Counter Pressed podcast; Jude Hamer and Lauren Rowles announced their engagement, and so did Danni Wyatt and Georgie Hodge; Lewis Hamilton’s rainbow helmet returned in F1 at the Bahrain Grand Prix; Michael Gunning and Robyn Love took up inclusion roles with the British Elite Athletes Association; trans boxer Patricio Manuel was victorious in his first fight since 2019; articles we recommended included Katie Whyatt’s feature for The Athletic on trans women in football, and Paddy Knowles on being LGBTQ+ in the men’s game for Sports Gazette

April: The Iceman winneth!

Outside of an Olympic year, success stories of LGBTQ+ athletes can often be in short supply due to low representation – even more so in men’s sports.

So seeing Bruce Mouat conquer the curling world as skip of Team Mouat was special, not least because he’s embraced being a member of the community with such enthusiasm and generosity.

He’s a tremendous ambassador for both his sport and for Scotland, and there’s an authenticity about him and boyfriend Craig Kyle that is genuinely heartening.

This year, Bruce also threw himself into a Pride Month project for Team GB and he went on to be named Outsports Male Athlete of the Year. He gets messages from “grateful” parents thanking him for being visible – now that’s our kind of champion.

Also in April… in an FvH Podcast episode, we wonder why women’s football appeared to be averse to marking Lesbian Visibility Week and wider attitudes to ‘the L word’ within the game; trans women in sport Natalie Washington and Charlie Martin join two of the biggest names in women’s football, Pernille Harder and Magda Eriksson, for a chat on Sky Sports’ The HangOUT; Team GB shot putter Sophie McKinna comes out publicly and explains why she wanted to tell her story through the media; Sophie Downey’s Guardian article on Anna Tamminen and Rosa Herreros sharing a post-match smooch is one of our fave reads of the month

May: An arc bending towards the light, on the small screen

A leading football journalist and a Premier League player opening up about being gay? Naturally, this is the sort of scenario that’s right up our street, purely because we know just how impactful and inspirational it would be.

Ted Lasso delivered a fictitious version but did it perfectly – first in the “Sunflowers” episode set in Amsterdam when Trent and Colin had their empowering chat, then in “La Locker Room Aux Folles” when Ted told Colin how much they cared.

Collider called the story arc the “most wholesome” of season 3 – and while we’re on the subject of life-affirming LGBTQ+ media, you can’t do much better than Jack Murley’s BBC LGBT Sport Podcast which hit its 300th episode milestone in May.

Among our favourite listens of 2023 were Jack’s interviews with Campbell Johnstone, Georgia Adams and the Leicester Wildecats. There really is something for every sports fan in the back catalogue.

Also in May… for the first time, statistics are released that estimate the number of lesbian, gay and bisexual journalists working in the UK – it’s about 11%; another report is released in May detailing the “hostile environment” that many LGBTQ+ journalists are experiencing in Britain; there is controversy in French football as several players refuse to play due to the rainbow shirt numbers initiative used to mark IDAHOBIT; we’re watching ‘I Kissed A Boy’ on BBC Three starring football referee Mikey Connor and tennis player Robert ‘Bobski’ Budzynski; Paris 2024 announces big plans for Pride House France at the Olympic Games

Watch the scene from ‘La Locker Room Aux Folles’ where Colin comes out to his AFC Richmond team-mates

June: A love story we loved for Pride Month

Particularly in the UK, it’s still relatively unusual for two LGBTQ+ athletes in love to not just be open about their relationship but to talk about it so candidly.

So credit to beach volleyball player Jess Grimson and cricketer Maia Bouchier, who told the Team England website all about how they met at the Commonwealth Games last summer and how their romance blossomed.

“It’s still quite new to me but that is what makes it more important to talk about,” said Jess, who hadn’t been in a same-sex relationship before she met Maia.

The latter has recently been called up to the England Test squad and is rapidly growing into being an influential role model in her sport, as demonstrated in Evie Ashton’s BBC Sport article later in the summer.

Also in June… Conor Coady helps Football v Homophobia to launch ‘Allies United’, a new LGBTQ+ inclusion project in the grassroots game; Kick It Out invites members of the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective to share stories for Pride Month; we loved Manchester club Lez Be United’s hilarious promo film starring drag queen Barb; Outsports’ Power 100 list celebrates influential members of the community in sports in North America; Australian trailblazer Matt Hall, who ran the Pride House at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, sadly passes away at the age of 51

Watch Jess Grimson and Maia Bouchier talk about falling in love in this Pride Month feature from Team England

July: The most wonderful of World Cups

Before the Women’s World Cup kicked off, Outsports had already reported that at least 11% of players taking part were LGBTQ+.

There was also substantial LGBTQ+ representation in the press boxes and media centres Down Under – something we wanted to acknowledge.

Four out writers in women’s football joined us for a special FvH podcast celebrating Pride at the tournament over the years, and numerous queer angles were explored in content alongside the on-field action in Australia and New Zealand.

Of course, some reporters went about this in entirely the wrong way (such as the guy from the BBC World Service at the Morocco press conference) or who would much prefer sexuality and gender to stay hidden away. FIFA played a part in this by not allowing Pride rainbow colours to be an armband choice; the ‘Unite for Inclusion’ design was just OneLove rebranded without the word ‘love’.

New Zealand captain Ali Riley explained just how vital visibility can be when she shared a story about the impact of her rainbow nail polish.

Also in July… Megan Rapinoe announces she will retire from competitive soccer at the end of the NWSL season; Samantha Lewis sets the scene for a very LGBTQ+-friendly World Cup by writing about inclusion and the Matildas; Wolves are the first of three clubs in 2023 to receive six-figure fines from the FA for homophobic chanting in Premier League games; Kevin Maxen of the Jacksonville Jaguars becomes the first out gay male coach in NFL history; Australian writer Poletti shares their story of being non-binary for International Non-Binary Day; Scotland captain Rachel Corsie writes sensitively and courageously about including trans women in women’s football; Hayley Wood-Thompson and Beth Fisher address the Morocco press conference story; Emma Smith explains the importance of Quinn’s WWC participation

August: The room where it happened, at Football Pride

July ended with confirmation of Jordan Henderson’s lucrative transfer to Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq, while August began with Aaron Ramsdale writing for the Players’ Tribune about the love he has for his family, referencing his gay brother.

These two events in the lives of England internationals generated considerable interest and column inches. What does it mean to show allyship in the modern men’s game?

One view was that the word “ally” itself was being too easily thrust upon people and turning them into heroes.

At Football Pride in Manchester, the focus was put back on LGBTQ+ people themselves in the game – from players, match officials, fan leaders and others who are sharing their journeys and thereby making meaningful change.

They might not be Premier League superstars but their representation matters hugely to our community.

Also in August… The extent of trans panic in sports is demonstrated by trans women being banned from competitive women’s chess; at least eight out LGBTQ athletes take part in the World Athletics Championships in Budapest; for Out and Out Football, Kate Sullivan writes about the brilliant Women’s World Cup watch parties put on by Baller in London; here are 10 LGBTQ+ things we learned from a memorable WWC tournament; Rainbow Blades set up a regional alliance for LGBTQ+ football fan groups; half jokingly, Daria Kasatkina says she would rather play under a rainbow Pride flag than a neutral flag in tennis tournaments

Jacob Jefferson from Arsenal’s LGBTQ+ fans group GayGooners discussed Ramsdale’s column on SSN

September: Face to face with Jordan

The consternation surrounding Henderson’s Saudi switch and its implications for LGBTQ+ inclusion in football was already considerable, but when the player was retained in the England squad, it went up another notch.

The peerless Adam Crafton had the opportunity to question Henderson face-to-face and neatly deconstructed the “respect the culture” defence which the millionaire midfielder proffered.

“When we talk about culture, I think of food, music, sport, art,” said Crafton. “And then I think about being a gay person, which is not something where you’ve woken up one day and decided you want to get into it.”

In The Athletic’s presentation of the interview as a Q&A, the insertion of “Henderson: (long pause)” before his reply was telling.

By the end, the former Liverpool captain must have been left with the sit-down equivalent of ‘twisted blood’, a phrase which sadly seems all too apt for the brutal regime in which he has now chosen to ply his trade.

Also in September… Out4Cricket hold a successful LGBTQ+ inclusion in cricket conference at Lord’s; Sports Media LGBT+’s Nakul Pande shares his story of coming out for Bi Visibility Day; Lauren Rowles wins gold at the World Rowing Championships and goes on to be named PinkNews Sports Personality of the Year; Carl Nassib retires from the NFL; out gay Team Canada athlete Bryden Hattie talks to Outsports – he later takes Santiago by storm at the Pan American Games; Cyril Leroy, the founder of French gay rugby club Les Gaillards, is honoured at the Rugby World Cup; Danielle McGahey is the first trans woman to play international woman’s cricket, but the ICC implements a ban within weeks

Henderson would later reflect on the reactions to his switch to Saudi in a Channel 4 Sport interview

October: Unity Ball films are high scorers

Pride Month reminds us all too often that when brands want to jump on board with LGBTQ+ projects, they need to look before they leap.

But one content partnership that really landed on its feet and was truly inclusive was the Voltarol Naturals’ Unity Ball series of short rugby films and articles, produced with Channel 4 and Gay Times.

Fronted by former England and British Lions star Ugo Monye, the mini-docs featured Meg Jones and Celia Quansah; the Transmanian Devils; the Colchester Kings; and Dr Simi Pam.

These were examples of polished storytelling that showed how inclusive sport has an unrivalled ability to bring people together and change lives for the better.

Also in October… NHL chiefs attempted to “solve” the problem of homophobic players disrupting Pride Nights by banning use of Pride Tape on the ice – eventually of course, after much outcry, they reverse the ban; Nikita and Vito’s gay romance dance on Strictly Come Dancing was a TV highlight; Scottish referee Dan McFarlane talks about being a match official who’s gay to mark National Coming Out Day; there’s a touching moment at an OL Reign press conference as head coach Laura Harvey explains how Megan Rapinoe helped her to live authentically

Samuel Biscoe, the founder of Colchester Kings RFC, featured in the Unity Ball series of short films

November: A decade of Rainbow Laces

The abundance of homophobic and transphobic abuse related to sports on social media can make you feel that there is less appetite to tackle LGBTQ+ discrimination these days.

However, football authorities did step up their efforts to combat abuse in stadiums and on the pitch, indicating that many feel it’s still a serious issue.

The extent of incidents at the Nottingham Forest vs Brighton game in late November, as detailed by one home supporter in an article on Sky Sports, sparked the issuing of statements by several various bodies and organisations.

Yet when the annual activation of Rainbow Laces began the following week, there wasn’t a great deal of conversation from influential people in the game to accompany the various matchday visibility components. You’d be forgiven for feeling everyone was just going through the motions in the 10th anniversary year of the campaign.

However, there was some outstanding work highlighted on the social media feeds of community trusts and foundations of clubs across the country. When we try to judge the long-term success of Rainbow Laces, it’s worth appreciating how well the message has been woven into football education that is positively influencing the generations coming through.

Also in November… Gay Games XI is held in Hong Kong and Guadalajara – though registration numbers are lower than hoped, there is a real energy in both cities; Luke Prokop is the first out gay ice hockey player in the AHL; Sam Kerr and Kristie Mewis celebrate their engagement; Azzurri captain Ciro Immobile is a guest judge on Drag Race Italia; Aussie climber Campbell Harrison, an out gay man and advocate, qualifies for his first Olympics at Paris 2024; Ali Krieger wins the NWSL with NJ/NY Gotham FC, but it’s injury agony on top of heartbreak for Megan Rapinoe

Palace’s USA international Chris Richards was part of the Palace4Life Foundation’s Rainbow Laces film

December: The captain who told us all to “guess”

A host of clubs give fantastic support to their LGBTQ fan groups, particularly Sheffield United – Rainbow Blades have become key players in the movement, even starting up a regional alliance this year to pass on their knowledge to other groups.

That’s why the saga over the missing rainbow armband in United’s designated Rainbow Laces home game against Liverpool gathered steam.

You could call it a series of unfortunate events – a new manager changes the team, a first-time captain is appointed, there isn’t enough time to explain the symbolism, etc – but the situation was worsened by a deliberate avoidance to discuss it, with press conference questions rebuffed, and a flippant response from the player Anel Ahmedhodzic to a genuine enquiry.

There are enough bad faith actors out there who want to misinterpret what wearing Pride rainbow colours as an ally means. Just because Rainbow Laces has been around for a decade, we can’t assume everyone understands what it’s all about.

Does the message of how it translates to being a good teammate get properly communicated to players? On this evidence, it appears not.

Also in December… Brighton’s “rainbow drips” shirt is released for Rainbow Laces; Zander Murray says he will retire from football at the end of the season; Jakub Jankto talks to ESPN FC’s Sid Lowe; Harlequins launch a special rugby shirt for their LGBTQ+ fans group, Quins Pride; ‘Step By Step’, a five-part documentary created by Arsenal about Beth Mead and Viv Miedema’s recovery from ACL injuries, is made available on YouTube; images from the wedding of Jess Fishlock and Tziarra King in Abergavenny give us all the feels; a former German footballer who’s gay says several players could come out collectively in May 2024

Cagliari and Czech Republic winger Jakub Jankto was interviewed by Sid Lowe for ESPN FC

What were your memorable LGBTQ+ in sports and sports media moments from 2023? Any content you’d like to recommend? Let us know! The comments are open below, or tag us on social media – you can also check out our 2024 calendar, which shows a wide range of forthcoming events.

Thanks for reading this feature and for your support for Sports Media LGBT+. If you’re interested in connecting further, get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

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Jon Holmes

Digital Sports Editor