It has been a while since the first Football Behind The Scenes Q&A, so I thought I would have another one. This time with Joe White, the Arsenal fan and member of The Gaygooners and Campaign Manager of the Pride In Football organisation and seemingly good and decent bloke. I asked him if he would be interested and he happily accepted. Here is the Q&A.
Thank you for taking the time to take part in this Q&A.
- As an Arsenal fan and part of the most well known Gay Gooners, how did you get involved with the group and how proud are you that the club are proactive in the LGBT community?
It’s absolutely great for Arsenal to be so supportive of the Gay Gooners, and the wider community through Arsenal for Everybody – seeing the pitch side displays in February highlight that the club supports us through LGBT History Month and Football v Homophobia’s month of action and is superb to see.
I actually got involved with Gay Gooners through an event with Pride in Football, the LGBT fans group network and a national campaigning platform. I was still at university in Manchester then, and thought it would be difficult to get involved with Gay Gooners whilst there – how wrong I was! There’s a great bunch of Gooners across the country who go to games home or away and meet up socially too.
- Arsenal has a proud record of working with the LGBT community, do you feel that other clubs need to do a bit more to work with their LGBT fans?
I think Arsenal do some fantastic work, as do other clubs such as Manchester City and (as much as it pains me to say) Spurs. Clubs can be proactive at engaging with their fans even if there isn’t an LGBT fans group though – Pride in Football is always happy to help in setting up new groups or helping clubs to engage more. It’d be great to see every group across the Football League with a fans group and getting involved with the campaigns that are progressing across the fans networks.
- How did you become part of Pride In Football, how did it come about?
There was a fans meeting at Wembley back in 2016 and I’d attended hoping to learn more and get involved – everyone involved was so welcoming and it really is like a second family. Regardless of who you support, there’s always a lot of laughs when we meet up and friendly team-based humour.
- You are the campaign manager for Pride In Football, how long have you been carrying out the role and what campaigns do you hope to see carried forward.
I’ve been in the role since June 2016 now, and we’ve focused on engaging with more fans and clubs as well as working with leagues, the FA and looking forwards to helping LGBT fans who want to go to the World Cup in Russia. This June we hosted a weekend conference at the National Football Museum, covering issues for LGBT fans and the progress we have made since 2013 when Gay Gooners were founded as the first fans group in the UK.
Going forwards we definitely want to see more engagement with the Football League and non-league clubs as well as putting pressure on governing bodies around fan safety abroad, especially in countries with anti LGBT laws. Seeing UEFA include sexuality and gender identity protections into competition bidding this year is a really progressive and promising sign. There are other issues focused around encouraging people to report instances of LGBT-phobic language in the stands – we’re trying to get people to Call It Out.
- Gareth Thomas recently said that football risks being left in the dark ages unless more is done to tackle homophobia in football. Do you agree or do you think he was being unfair.
I think football in recent years has made some important progress – and the fact that there’s a discussion being had about challenging homophobia in football is a testament to that. I think the important thing for any sport is to not take progress made for granted. There’s still a long way to go at all levels of the game and fans are leading the way on that. Proud and Palace (Crystal Palace’s LGBT fan group) co-ordinated a joint Palace fans message before the start of the season focused around how homophobic chants about Brighton aren’t acceptable – “there’s 99 reasons to hate Brighton, but homophobia isn’t one of them”. I think Gareth Thomas raised some important issues, and gave a platform to some of the issues we’ve been facing.
- Last year we saw a Radio 5 Live survey which saw 82% say they would have no issue with their club signing a gay player, whilst 8% said they would stop watching their team. If this is the case, why is it that there are players are not keen on coming out? Is it down to team mates or fans and even possible press reaction that stops them?
I think the focus on when a top male player is going to come out doesn’t actually help – the priority should be making an atmosphere in the stands that would support an openly gay player. There are plenty of examples in the women’s game of players coming out and it not being an issue. I think that the men’s game can learn a lot from these examples and establishing support networks ready for when a player feels ready to come out – but it needs to be the player making that choice.
It’s hard enough to come out as LGBT without the media focus and pressures of being an elite athlete – concerns about being able to play without abuse from both home & away fans, sponsorship deals drying up and then selection concerns. It’s completely natural to imagine the worst case scenario, and I think this is where LGBT fans can create an atmosphere where players know that their fans, their clubs, their leagues and the governing bodies would be nothing but supportive.
- Do you think that more education at younger levels can help improve attitudes and reduce homophobic incidents in the future.
I think education at all levels will help reduce homophobic incidents – the case of the Leicester fan receiving education on why and how his homophobic chanting impacts on fans, staff and potentially closeted players was an important step and approach. We don’t seek for immediate bans, we want football to be inclusive to everyone but repeat offenders need to realise they are breaking the law and clubs will impose bans if necessary. It’d be great if people realised the reason we are there is to enjoy the match and to support our team just like everyone else – homophobia, biphobia and transphobia has no place in the beautiful game.