Why Bi Visibility Day matters, with Jahmal Howlett-Mundle of the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective

Published by Jon Holmes on

“To share ideas and ways in which we can help to make football a much more inclusive space” – that’s just one of the reasons why Jahmal joined the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective. He talks with us to mark Bi Visibility Day on Friday 23 September. It’s an awareness day that’s increasingly important to acknowledge…

By Jon Holmes

Jahmal Howlett-Mundle speaking on the panel at the launch event of the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective

In Pride Month, over 100 people from across football came to the launch event of a new network group for those working in the game who are LGBTQ+ or who are active allies.

Since June, the mailing list of the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective has attracted hundreds of subscribers, interest in inclusion continues to grow, and we’re seeing more representation in football.

One recent example is the uplifting story of striker Zander Murray, playing for Gala Fairydean Rovers in Scotland’s Lowland League, which has recently been making headlines around the world.

September 23 is Bi Visibility Day, also known as Celebrate Bisexuality Day. It’s an awareness day that was first marked in the US in 1999. In the last few years, it’s become the conclusion to Bi Awareness Week.

As the Bi Pride UK website explains, “Between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’, there are so many shades of attraction beyond gender… people adopt many different labels to identify themselves, or even choose not to use labels at all.”

Some relevant statistics…

  • 5.3% of people aged 16 to 24 in the UK identify as bisexual (ONS data released May 2022)
  • Bi respondents’ self-reported mental health outcomes are worse than those of their gay or lesbian counterparts (Bi Report, Stonewall, 2020)
  • 43% of bi people have never attended an LGBT+ space or event (Bi Report, Stonewall, 2020)

To help recognise and celebrate those in our football community who are bi, we caught up with Jahmal who was a speaker on the panel at our launch event.

Watch our launch event video! Thanks to creator / producer John Reavey

‘Jam’ came out publicly in July 2021 when he gave permission for his then club Sheppey United to post a video of him sharing his personal news with team-mates, staff and friends. The video quickly went viral and since then, he’s shared more of his journey on his social channels and in the media, including in an episode of BBC One’s Extraordinary Portraits series.

“I used to struggle really badly with my mental health and I knew that was down to me not being confident with my sexuality. Learning about and connecting with people that are similar to myself and have had similar experiences has given me the impetus to speak up. If we don’t use our voices, then we’re never going to be heard. Let’s share what we’ve been through and offer solutions.”

— Jahmal, speaking on the Collective launch panel

Jahmal recently joined Ramsgate FC in the Isthmian League South East Division (Step 4). Here’s what he told us this week…

On the Collective launch night…

It was super nerve-racking initially, because I hadn’t spoken in public at an event before! But everyone was really engaged and interested, and came up to have more chats after the panel.

Especially after the lockdowns, being able to meet people that I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet in person before was great. I didn’t understand how much I’d enjoy being around other LGBT+ people and allies.

The football bubble, especially on the playing side of things, can be quite small. Before coming out, I found it difficult to talk about my experiences and the changes I’d like to see in the game. But after the event, I was thinking – what more can I contribute?

On Ramsgate FC…

I signed for the club in mid-August. We won in midweek away from home and we’re now top of the league. I’ve been keeping up with my early morning gym sessions and I’m in super good shape!

It’s all going in the right direction. In a couple of weeks, we’re playing against Sheppey United – my old club – so that’s a fixture I’m really looking forward to.

On becoming more visible…

The more I kept things in, the worst I would feel – that’s been true at different points in my life. The best way I can explain how things are better now is through the word ‘usualise’, as opposed to saying ‘normalise’. I’d get anxious even before I had conversations and then I’d struggle to be direct whenever I felt uncomfortable.

Gradually, however, I learned to ‘usualise’ how I speak, knowing that I don’t need to make any sort of statement, about sexuality or anything else really. However anyone else takes a topic is the way that they take it, but I haven’t had a bad reaction. So ‘usualising’ conversations is something I’ve picked up over time and it’s proven to be a real game-changer for me.

On featuring in Extraordinary Portraits

Jahmal (c) with artist Lo Lo and host Tinie on the set of Extraordinary Portraits

Having the opportunity to be part of that really showed the progress I’d made in my own life and the impact it’s had in football. I felt a little bit exposed when it first aired but now when I look back on it, I think about what my life used to be like, what it’s like now, and what it could potentially be in the future. It’s amazing!

It’s opened my mind up to so many things and at the end of the day, it’s education. In football, that certainly needs to be done and I want to support as many people as possible. I’m currently looking into ways I can offer more around education – so watch this space…

The episode is available to watch on demand on BBC iPlayer.

On Zander Murray coming out…

“You can’t just put someone who’s gay or bi into any one type of criteria. We’re all different, we all have different interests and likes” – Zander Murray, speaking to Pride of the Terraces

It’s so great to see. I don’t yet know where Zander grew up or too much about his background and experiences, but for me coming from South East London, I didn’t feel I could be different to the majority. I felt I always had to defend myself, be super masculine, and not give people any reason to think that I was different.

I 100% agree with what he says in the above quote. For example, a lot of the media only mentions gay footballers, as opposed to gay and bisexual footballers. When that happens, it feels like a significant proportion of people’s sexuality is removed and I find that challenging.

I don’t necessarily know the best way to be visible as a bisexual person, certainly in football, but I do appreciate Zander acknowledging us. Beth Mead did the same in her recent Sky Sports interview and it doesn’t go unnoticed.

On the stats…

I’m not surprised that so many bi people haven’t attended an LGBT+ event – it makes sense. A lot won’t have the confidence to go, especially if the advertising isn’t welcoming enough. People might not feel like these are spaces where they’re represented or that they’d feel comfortable in, particularly if they’re not out. I know it’s something we’ll be thinking hard about for future Collective events.

On marking Bi Visibility Day…

You don’t necessarily have to put out your own social post – although that certainly helps – but just showing that you’re aware that this is a celebratory day is super important. A retweet might be seen as a relatively small thing to do but it does represent support, and that’s a good way to go.

Our thanks to Jahmal. To learn more about his football journey and the challenges he’s overcome, watch and read his interview with ITV Meridian from earlier this summer, and articles on The Athletic and Sky Sports.

This Q&A first appeared in the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective newsletter.

To sign up and learn more about connecting, just head to lgbtqfootball.com/joinus and follow the instructions.

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Jon Holmes

Digital Sports Editor