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Combining ‘LGBT History Month’ and ‘men’s football’

16 February 2024

Club News

Combining ‘LGBT History Month’ and ‘men’s football’

16 February 2024

LGBT History Month is an annual month-long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. Cheltenham Town is proud to be commemorating LGBT History Month at this weekend’s home match against Port Vale.

Society has – broadly – moved in a progressive direction over the last few decades, but the preceding history has not been so positive.

It was only in 1967 that the Sexual Offences Act partially decriminalised private homosexual acts between men aged over 21 in England and Wales.  Those aged 57 or more have lived during a time where you could have been imprisoned for having committed such acts (war heroes such as Alan Turing were 'offered treatment').  In Scotland and Northern Ireland, you could be even younger, as similar legislation was introduced in 1980 and 1982 respectively.

The first Pride march in London was held in 1972, with between 75-200 people in attendance. (In 2024, you can expect over one million to attend.)

In a regressive step, Section 28 of the Local Government Act was introduced in 1988 which prohibited the “promotion” of homosexuality by any local authority body, which included schools.  This was only repealed in 2003 meaning that you would need to be under the age of 40 (or so) to have been informed about same sex relationships in school (since Section 28’s introduction).  

In 1999, the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho was bombed by David Copeland, killing three people and wounding over 70.  To this day, many LGBT people are victims to violent acts on the basis of their sexual orientation.            

Turning to this current century, in 2000, the Government lifted the ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual people from serving in the armed forces.

It was only in 2001 that the age of consent was equalised between homosexual and heterosexual couples.

In 2002, equal rights are granted to same sex couples applying for adoption and a year later, it became illegal to discriminate against lesbian, gay and bi people in the workplace (although note the lack of inclusion for trans people).

Same sex couples were allowed to enter into civil partnerships in 2004 but could not marry until 2014.  It was also in 2004 when the Gender Recognition Act was given royal assent, giving trans people full legal recognition in their appropriate gender, albeit confined to the binary labels of male or female.

It was only in 2011 when the lifetime ban on gay and bi men donating blood was lifted.  Controversially, even today, gay or bi men in non-monogamous relationships must wait for 3 months after their last sexual contact with a same sex partner before they can donate blood.

Whilst much of LGBT history makes for quite sobering reading, in the context of men’s football, it is just as much sparse. 

In 1990, Justin Fashanu became the first male professional footballer to come out as gay and faced significant difficulties with being accepted by his teammates and the terraces.  He took his own life in 1998.  Many (heterosexual) footballers have faced, and continue to face, homophobic abuse on the terraces.  In January 2022, there were reports of homophobic abuse at the home game against Charlton Athletic at the Completely Suzuki Stadium, which was condemned by the Club.  This is sadly a not uncommon occurrence up and down the country. 

In 2013, Stonewall sent Rainbow Laces to all professional football clubs in the UK and Rainbow Laces Day has been a regular fixture on the footballing calendar ever since.

In December 2021, Proud Robins was launched, becoming Cheltenham Town’s first LGBTQ+ network.

There are approximately 5,000 male professional footballers in England and only Jake Daniels of Blackpool is openly gay (having come out in May 2022) whilst still playing.  Some players, like Thomas Hitzlsperger (formerly of Aston Villa and others), have since come out in retirement.

With 7.5% of population identifying as non-heterosexual (and it is likely to be more than this due to the stigma in many communities for openly admitting their sexual orientation), there is either a clear disparity between the demography of footballers and society at large – or – more probably, there remains a reluctance for some professional male footballers to fully express their identity openly. The men’s game has some way to go to catch up with the women’s game in this regard.

Further, Stonewall (a leading LGBTQ+ charity and the pioneer of the Rainbow Laces campaign) report that:

  • 7 in 10 football fans who have attended a match have heard or witnessed homophobia in the terraces;
  • 2 in 3 LGBTQ+ people feel like that there are problems with homophobia and transphobia in sport which has acted as a barrier to participation for LGBTQ+ people; and
  • a majority of football fans think that not enough is being done by the governing authorities to tackle homophobia abuse.

Whilst there is no doubt that society at large has moved broadly in a positive direction for LGBTQ+ people, the recent political culture wars have led many LGBTQ+ people, and especially trans people, to feel as vulnerable as they ever have been.  Progress is never absolute or assured but everyone (regardless of identity) can play a part in being supportive allies to LGBTQ+ people and thereby helping to eradicate homophobia, biphobia and transphobia from the game and from society at large. 

Hopefully there is more positive history to be made.

References: Stonewall

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