Why we must speak up for LGBTQ+ sportspeople | Stonewall
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Why we must speak up for LGBTQ+ sportspeople

Our Sports Engagement Manager Erin Williams argues that we need to move past visibility and into real action if we want to create a sporting world where all LGBTQ+ people can thrive.

Happening once a year as the culmination of our Rainbow Laces campaign, Rainbow Laces Day provides us with an opportunity to celebrate and take pride in the contribution that members of the LGBTQ+ community make to sport.

Sport and physical activity bring enormous benefits, from wellbeing to community, and no one should be excluded because of who they are.

On Rainbow Laces Day, we ask everyone to Lace Up and Speak Up for LGBTQ+ equality by starting the conversations we need to have to drive real societal and structural change. Sport and physical activity bring enormous benefits, from wellbeing to community, and no one should be excluded because of who they are. But, still, too many of us feel unsafe or unwelcome at sporting events.

Over the past six years, the Rainbow Laces campaign has brought huge amounts of vital visibility and awareness. And this year has been such an important one for many LGBTQ+ people. We’ve seen Jordan Henderson wearing his rainbow captain’s armband, Pernille Harder and Magda Ericksson celebrating their relationship, and over 150 openly LGBTQ+ athletes at the Tokyo Olympics – including Quinn, our first openly trans gold medallist.

These are year-round shows of support and unity – and in that sense, every season is Rainbow Laces season. But Rainbow Laces Day is when it all comes together in a moving display of solidarity. Stadiums light up in rainbow, and the biggest names in sport lace up for LGBTQ+ equality, backed by some of the biggest players on the world stage who make up TeamPride – including Barclays, Premier League, Sky Sports, and Unilever.

As a queer athlete, I know how much it has meant for me to see people like me playing the sport I love. Growing up, sport was everything to me. The rush of competition, the ecstasy of winning, the comradery of the team – every aspect of being involved in sports as a young person enriched who I was and made me who I am today. When I realised and accepted myself as a lesbian, I was excluded from some areas of my life, but fortunately sport remained my safe space. This was in large part because the visibility of queer role models in my sport made it clear that being LGBTQ+ and succeeding on the pitch was possible.

But while visibility is important – and so exciting – it isn't everything.

But while visibility is important – and so exciting – it isn’t everything. We know that just because some people are visible, that doesn’t mean that everything is perfect for LGBTQ+ people in all sports. In fact, 33% of LGBTQ+ people who participate in or follow sport aren’t out to anyone in their sporting life (Out in Sport, 2019). 

So now, we need action. We’ve got an amazing foundation of awareness but it’s time to go further and tackle the root of the problems faced by many LGBTQ+ people. There’s still a long way to go until every lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and queer person feels that they can be themselves – in whichever sport and physical activity that they want to be involved in. That’s why we’re taking the Rainbow Laces campaign to the next level, and asking you to Lace Up and Speak Up. 

Want to know what you can do on Rainbow Laces Day? A great way to show your support is to show off your laces loud and proud. It’s also a chance to get creative. Like to bake? Go for it, like Delia Smith did in 2018. Have a dance-off, like Dance Action Zone Leeds (DAZL) did in 2020. Or use the day to look over your club policies, codes of conduct, and inclusive sessions (we have some top tips for that!). You can even get inspired by sports that are already leading the way when it comes to LGBTQ+ inclusion.

We want everyone – athletes, clubs, individuals, gyms, pools, dance groups, schools, and uni teams – to take your commitment to inclusion even further.

But whatever you do, use it as a time to start the conversation. We want everyone – athletes, clubs, individuals, gyms, pools, dance groups, schools, and uni teams – to take your commitment to inclusion even further, and have conversations about what you can do to make your spaces truly inclusive and welcoming for all LGBTQ+ people. When I came out, I was helped enormously by my teammates who were not LGBTQ+ but took the time to simply ask, ‘Hey, how can I make this easier for you?’. I had their back on the pitch (I’m a goalkeeper) and I knew they had my back off it. If you need some help, check out this list of key talking points to help you speak up for LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport.

To me, Rainbow Laces are a symbol of pride and a signal of collective action so that LGBTQ+ sportspeople can succeed in every aspect of our lives. It’s about working and winning (it is sport, after all!) – together.

So, on every Rainbow Laces Day, join us in lacing up, speaking up, and starting those conversations. You could be the one ensuring that your LGBTQ+ teammates feel welcomed, celebrated and accepted in the sport they love – and that your whole team thrives as a result.

Visit our Rainbow Laces hub.