On Saturday, Trafalgar Square and streets across London played host to over 300,000 people, all celebrating the Gay Pride festival. Across the world, people in support of the LGBT community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) come together to take a stance against discrimination and acknowledge people for who they are.
Amongst the celebrations in London was a group known as the ‘Gay Gooners,’ an initiative set up in early 2013 that represents Arsenal as an inclusive football club. Arsenal say: “The group is further evidence of Arsenal Football Club’s on-going commitment is the Arsenal for Everyone initiative, which aims to ensure that everyone associated with Arsenal feels an equal sense of belonging, regardless of age, race, colour, ethnic or national origin, nationality, sex or gender, sexual orientation, disability or religion.”
Despite how fantastically positive this group is, the response from Arsenal fans was mixed. Most supported the group, while a small proportion of fans believed that the group should just keep to themselves and race, religion and sexuality should be left out of football. Wrong.
There is clearly a problem in world football when it comes to homosexuality. Former West Ham, Everton and Aston Villa player, Thomas Hitzlsperger, came out as gay after he retired from football in September 2013. In an interview following his announcement, he said that being a gay football player had been “a long and difficult process” and that he was discouraged from coming out whilst he was still playing.
Given that no current football players have come out, homosexual slurs from fans is rare in the game, as nobody knows which players might be gay. However, the Gay Gooners themselves, along with Mesut Özil, were the subject of a tasteless, homophobic banner in our clash with Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena last season.
The banner depicted a drawing of Özil without any shorts on bent over in front of a cannon, with the words ‘Gay Gunners’ written above it. It is no surprise that, given such banners, football players don’t feel comfortable being open about their sexuality.
This may well have been an isolated incident, but it isn’t hard to imagine the abuse a player might suffer should he choose to come out whilst he is still playing. Racism is still rife in the game all over the world, with monkey chants prominent in certain leagues. Should a player come out, I see no evidence to suggest that racist fans wouldn’t think twice about redirecting their abuse towards Gay players and potentially gay fans instead.
This is why the Gay Gooners are so important, and why it is even more important again that the club openly endorses them. Football is a universal game and as football fans, we have a duty to make everyone feel comfortable and accepted within the game. It really is a shame that some Arsenal fans take such a dim view of the Gay Gooners and that other fan bases see them as the butt of a joke.
Arsenal are the first club to get behind such an initiative and I’m proud to support a club that is doing its part to help world football become more inclusive.