Yesterday, Sky Sports published an interview with footballer Andre Gray during which he discussed his previous homophobic comments on Twitter and subsequent four match ban.
Gray recalled the experience as “difficult" and "weird”, saying he was “shocked” that the offensive and hate-filled tweets – which he made as a non-league player - were exposed, as well as his resulting ban.
Asked if he wanted to send a message to gay football fans, Gray later insisted that he does not want to be tarnished as homophobic. He added that gay people are "Normal people at the end of the day, they've made a choice and that's how they want to live their life and I have not got a problem with that."
This is hurtful, and unfortunately, it demonstrates that Gray still has quite a lot to learn when it comes to LGBT people, their experiences and the issues that affect them. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not things people simply choose.
As we saw during the Rainbow Laces campaign, there is a huge desire in the sports industry to make sport everyone’s game, but we need to see all those involved with sport, whether that’s clubs, players, academies, governing bodies, sports media or referees, supported with education that creates a genuine empathy from players and understanding amongst individuals. It’s not enough to say “I support LGBT people”, we need people to understand how the things they say affect LGBT people.
There remains a fearful reticence fuelled by a lack of awareness on LGBT people and issues in sport.
We also need to see society challenge these views and fully grasp the issues facing the LGBT community.
Our research shows that the majority want to make more LGBT people feel accepted and welcome in sport.
All those involved with sport must broaden their knowledge, build their confidence and learn from past mistakes. Stonewall and other organisations are here to stand side by side with any individuals, sports clubs, governing bodies and media organisations to give them the support they need to make sport everyone’s game.