As is the norm for every Pride Month, football unites in decorating crests with the colours of the LGBTQ+ flag. However, when it comes to queer representation, women's football does a lot more than simply slipping on a rainbow-coloured armband.
Football is everyone's game, and the women's side of the sport is a perfect example of how adopting this motto all year-round is done.
The women's game has created a support system that more closely represents a friendly neighbourhood. Fans know one another, rivalries are present but more gentle, and players interact freely with their adoring supporters. In this close-knit family, everyone is able to be themselves without the fear of judgement.
This is mainly because of the representation within the sport. Trailblazers like Megan Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock are constantly showing how simple it is to live the life you want to lead. Having household names comfortably speaking out about their sexuality and rallying for change continues to make women's football a safe space for those under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.
Other iconic queer footballers are part of some real power couples, including Chelsea's Magdalena Eriksson and Pernille Harder, and Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris of Orlando Pride.
Eriksson and Harder's celebratory kiss at the 2019 World Cup went viral, with thousands of fans across the world thanking the stars for normalising seeing same-sex relationships during sports broadcasts. In contrast, this is something the men's game is hugely struggling with.
'The Gay Footballer'
The last male player to come out as gay while playing in England’s top four divisions was Justin Fashanu in 1990. The reaction to Fashanu’s announcement was hostile, and his life ultimately ended in tragedy when he committed suicide in 1998. It's ludicrous that not a single player in England’s top four tiers have felt they were safe enough to come out as gay since then.
The likes of Robbie Rogers and Thomas Hitzlsperger waited until retirement to come out as gay, which is heartbreaking to consider people have had to shut away a huge part of their lives due to the toxic stigma around queer footballers.
Back in 2019, there looked to be a huge breakthrough for the men's game when a Twitter account claiming to be a gay Championship footballer was created. The person behind the account said they would reveal their identity and come out to the public, which would have been a moment for the history books.
'The Gay Footballer', as he was known based on his Twitter handle, promised to come out, but eventually tweeted: "I thought I was stronger. I was wrong," before deleting the account.
Carrying the torch
The differences between men's and women's football are many, but none as big as the way LGBTQ+ representation is viewed.
Anti-hate campaigns like Kick It Out and Hope United are looking to squash discrimination, but the hateful comments continue to flood in. Men's football has now dug itself into a huge rut that will be extremely hard to get out of. It's almost viewed as impossible to be a professional footballer and be gay.
It’s the opposite in women’s football, however. During the 2019 World Cup, there were more than 40 out gay footballers and coaches involved. This, of course, doesn't include those who didn't make the trip out to France.
The more these players are unapologetically themselves while in the public eye, the more those who watch will feel comfortable in the community the sport has created.
Perhaps men’s football will be able to learn some of the lessons from the women’s game to make it a more inclusive environment and ultimately work towards squashing the stigma that has been created over the years. Women's football can act as the ideal model on how to support LGBTQ+ individuals in the sport and keep discrimination far away from the game.News Now - Sport News