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Does the football world really care about LGBTQ players?

The world has made progress in the acceptance of LGBTQ persons, but that battle appears to be far from over. While non-straight individuals these days are likely to experience less discrimination than in previous generations, to say that they won’t experience discrimination is certainly not an accurate statement. And these are just regular, everyday people.


Does it get any better with the fame, fortune, and exposure that you get by being a famous footballer? We took a look at three different countries where football is popular to find out.


Being LGBT in 2021


The reality of the modern world is that members of the LGBT community either prosper or perish, depending largely on where they live. For example, the LGBT community in the United States is currently in the process of fighting for transgender rights, but gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are largely accepted (or at least tolerated) by the vast majority of their peers. Being gay is no longer a reason to be fired from work, expelled from the family, and such, it might even prove a benefit as it is easier to find a dating partner thanks to the close-knitted community gays and lesbians have in the States.


And even more - LGBT singles have their own dating sites to meet fellow partners, community gatherings, and a strong sense of pride as a movement that stands up for those who identify as LGBT. This isn’t the perfect setting, but it shows a brighter future is within reach. However, a journey to the opposite side of the world shows an entirely different story.


LGBT people in the Middle East are at constant risk of being discovered. Their governments impose restrictions on them, their identities are largely considered invalid, and they’re actively discriminated against. Even worse, LGBT people here can be attacked at any time, and the perpetrators face little (if any) repercussions. The Middle East has a lot of catching up to do in terms of LGBT rights, and it doesn’t seem like they’ll be changing their tune anytime soon.


The Lone Gay Footballer in the United States


The United States may be pro-LGBT in general, but that doesn’t mean straight isn’t the norm here. In fact, the US only has one openly gay soccer (football) player: Collin Martin. Mr. Martin is a 26-year-old gay man who plays for the San Diego Loyal. While he struggled with coming out & discrimination in his younger years, Martin overall hasn’t received a lot of hate during his professional life. However, all good things eventually come to an end, as was the case in a 2021 match vs. the Phoenix Rising, when player Junior Flemmings hurled a homophobic slur at him. The San Diego Loyal Soccer Club ended up refusing to finish the game as a protest, and Mr. Martin was unwillingly pushed into the national spotlight. Fortunately, he has been able to use the situation as an opportunity to promote change & acceptance of the LGBT community in professional soccer.


Brazil: No Place for LGBT Footballers


Brenno Costa remains the only Brazilian footballer to have ever worn the jersey number “24”. The reasoning can be partly attributed to superstition, but the real reason? “24” is a number associated with homosexuality. Although the game itself is changing and evolving, it doesn’t appear as though Brazil’s attitude towards homosexuality is making any progress. This really isn’t very surprising, as the current president Jair Bolsonaro has proudly declared himself homophobic. Sadly, this outlook really limits new and upcoming players who have real potential, as the second they come out as gay, they’re essentially forced into retirement. Such was the case with Douglas Braga, a promising footballer who left football at the young age of 21 after realizing he was gay. Can you really blame him, though? In a country where “viado” (a swear word for a homosexual in Portuguese) is one of the most common insults thrown at the opposing team, it’s fairly obvious that the current footballer scene is closed off from gay footballers and extremely unwilling to let them join in the games.


The United Kingdom: A Disheartening Place for Gay Players & Fans Alike


Justin Fashanu was the first (and only) UK footballer to come out as gay. These days, there aren’t any openly gay footballers in the UK. The country’s overall attitude towards LGBT players is unwelcoming at best, and while not as disheartening as in other countries, it still shows that there’s a lot of progress to be made within the sport. Take the recent Liverpool vs. Norwich City game, for example, where a homophobic chant was directed towards midfielder Billy Gilmour. Fortunately, Liverpool FC as a club have been working hard on encouraging inclusivity, with Liverpool’s LGBT+ fans’ group, Kop Outs”, condemning and bringing some light to the issue. When the Reds faced Norwich again just a short time later, there was no repeat of the unsavoury chant.


Homosexuality Hasn’t Been Well Received in Football


It’s no surprise that there are few publicly-known LGBT footballers: it’s been made very clear that they’re not welcome in the sport. This problem presents multiple issues. First, the discrimination itself presents a giant, nearly insurmountable obstacle for even “closed” LGBT players to overcome. If they do manage to make it past then, they must deal with the indirect discrimination for their entire careers, all the while living in fear that someone will discover their secret and use it against them. How many great players in the sport missing out on simply because of homophobia? You decide.


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