Why it’s important to be an active Trans Footy Ally and support Football v Transphobia

Published by Jon Holmes on

It’s the annual Week of Action for the Football v Transphobia campaign, running from Thursday, March 24 up to March 31, which is Trans Day of Visibility. Sports Media LGBT+ talks to campaign lead Natalie Washington about the initiative and why stories about trans people in the game are so important…

By Jon Holmes

The new Trans Footy Ally badges are available to buy now from the FvH shop

It’s not easy to find English language coverage of women’s football in Argentina – but Mara Gomez’s ongoing story is well worth searching out.

As the annual Football v Transphobia Week of Action gets underway, campaign lead Natalie Washington is hoping more role models like Mara come to wider attention to help inspire other trans and non-binary people who are already in the game or keen to get involved.

The 24-year-old forward is one of very few professional footballers worldwide who are both trans and out. She plays in the Campeonato de Fútbol Femenino’s top tier for Club Estudiantes de La Plata, who are based in Argentina’s fourth-biggest city, just an hour’s drive from Buenos Aires.

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A post shared by Mara Stefania Gomez (@maragomez.oficial)

There’s a little Premier League link there too – the Estudiantes chairman is former Manchester United and Chelsea midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, back working at his hometown club where he began his illustrious playing career.

Mara had been playing in local leagues in Buenos Aires when she was signed by Villa San Carlos in early 2020 to play in the newly-professionalised women’s top-flight. Her debut was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic lockdown and she finally took to the field in December of that year.

She then moved clubs in August 2021 – at the same time as she qualified as a nurse – and shortly before that transfer, she gave an in-depth interview to ESPN. Her words were translated from Spanish to English and expertly edited by Tom Hamilton, who kept the article all in Mara’s voice. It’s a powerful, illuminating read.

Mara speaks of having found many allies in women’s football – overwhelmingly so in fact, both on the teams she has played for and within opposition sides too. Some players didn’t necessarily start out with that perspective but this shifted over time. “I believe people can change their ways of thinking, and I know so because I have lived it inside the football world,” she says. “The fact that an opposing player didn’t want me to play against her, to now, seeing her become a person who supports me and joins me, for example.”

On her Instagram, Gomez’s most recent posts are all joy – smiling proudly wrapped in the Pride and Trans Pride flags; modelling the new Estudiantes kit: and playing with her niece in a local park. She’s now a Nike-sponsored athlete and recently featured in one of their TV commercials.

Watch Mara Gomez’s Nike commercial

Sports Media LGBT+ caught up with Natalie Washington to talk about Football v Transphobia, the impact that out trans and non-binary people in the game like Mara are having, and why it’s vital that allies are vocal…

JH: Hi Natalie! Thanks for joining us for a chat. What can we look forward to in this FvT Week of Action?

NW: Thanks for inviting me! FvT 2022 is primarily about providing some positivity around trans participation in sport, and celebrating trans joy. We want to give a focus to people who have been able to get involved in the game in whatever way. They’re getting those important wellbeing and social inclusion boosts and that’s something that deserves to be promoted.

Allyship is also really important. We’ve got these really cool ‘Trans Footy Ally’ badges and stickers on sale, and there are also some new ‘Trans Footy Star’ ones coming, aimed of course at trans people themselves. We’re encouraging people to post on social media with the hashtag #FvT2022 with pictures and stories about how being involved in football has been good for them, whether they are trans, non-binary, or an ally.

Natalie Washington and Sammy Walker in action for TRUK United FC

In the last couple of years, the Week of Action has fallen at times when we’ve been in lockdowns in the UK due to the pandemic. What difference will it make that football is fully up and running at all levels this time?

I think it’ll make a big difference! I’m really looking forward to seeing some shares of pictures of people in the stands watching their clubs or with their team-mates before and after games.

We’re hugely excited about the TRUK United FC game at Dulwich Hamlet is taking place on the night of Thursday, March 31 – that’s going to be a great occasion (tickets on sale now!) One thing that all of us involved in the campaign have missed are those images of trans people being involved in playing, coaching, refereeing, or going to watch football. It’s been unfortunate and frustrating that the Weeks of Action in recent years have coincided with lockdowns. So now that we’re out of that, it’s another cause to celebrate.

In our worldwide LGBTQ+-inclusive sports family, there are now so many people who are allies to trans and non-binary people. How important is it that they send a message, particularly this week?

It actually goes really far. If allies are able to just take a little time to say something positive about trans and non-binary inclusion in football, of course I’d encourage them strongly to do so.

Sadly, one of the attacks we get as trans people involved in sport – and I’ve certainly heard it this week – is hearing it said that, ‘oh, people don’t really want you there – they’re just being nice’ or ‘they’ll tolerate your presence but they don’t really want you there.’ Now I know personally that that isn’t true and people who are involved in the game know that’s not true as well.

However, sometimes people who are thinking about getting involved in football, or who are maybe going through a bit of a bad time personally or within the game, need to see and hear that vocal, unequivocal support for trans inclusion because it reminds them that they belong there, and that they have something to contribute to the game in whatever way they do. Both emotionally and politically, it’s so important and powerful to hear that message from allies that they value our presence.

We’re highlighting Mara Gomez in our FvT article. Who are the role models in football who have inspired you?

It’s a good question! Mara Gomez is a great example because sadly we don’t have too many of these examples of trans people – and transfeminine people in particular – at the elite levels of the game.

Obviously, Quinn is a fantastic high-level role model, even more so for having won an Olympic gold medal last year. It was a historic moment, so inspiring, and really important in so far as it helps us highlight the gender diversity in the game.

There are other people playing, particularly in the women’s elite game, who identify as non-binary or who have said they identify as transmasculine. Some of those players might plan to transition after they have finished in the professional game. That’s interesting, but also in a way slightly frustrating of course – that some of those people don’t feel that the game quite fits who they are and they’re holding off a part of themselves to complete their career, if you like.

What I also like to see is people involved in other ways. Every now and again on social media, I come across people who aren’t famous as players but are being successful, such as referees in places like the US or Israel – there is a high-profile Israeli ref, Sapir Berman, who came out as a trans woman last year.

Then you’ve got the sheer number of LGBTQ+ groups associated with professional football clubs that are involved in Football v Transphobia. We’re seeing more trans fans from those clubs being visible. Stuff like that is wonderful because it can be quite transformative in letting people see, ‘OK, there are other people like me… maybe I can start going back to my football club to watch on a Saturday afternoon’. It’s lovely to see all those different role models – and it really helps.

Thanks so much to Natalie for talking to us about Football v Transphobia. Please show your support for the campaign this week, and check out the new episodes of the FvT Podcast to hear great football conversations with guests who are trans and non-binary.

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.

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Jon Holmes

Digital Sports Editor