Being LGBTQ has long been a taboo subject in men’s football, with players often very quick to deny rumours, however, women’s football offers something rather contradictory, it is widely accepted amongst not just players but also among fans.
They don’t hide, and often talk about their experiences with coming out. It is also accepted in the dressing room with women’s football offering the correct and positive approach towards acceptance in sports. A lesson could certainly be learnt from women’s football.
Many players across the world have come out publicly, the first in English women’s football being Casey Stoney. The former England captain and current Manchester United Women’s manager came out during her time at Arsenal in 2014. Stoney described it as a ‘weight being lifted’ when she spoke about it, but admitted that she never had to hide her sexual orientation in ‘football circles because it was accepted.’ She acknowledged the importance of having out role models in football as it is ‘important for me to speak out as a gay player because there are so many people struggling who are gay’. As a youngster, it was very important and influential seeing one of my heroes come out and be so widely accepted, it really resonated with me and became a part of me beginning to accept myself and who I am. That’s the thing, I feel so much sadness for young boys with no gay role models to look up to in football, nobody to guide them but young girls have a plethora of role models showing them that although it may be a hard time, that they too can be accepted.
Though being gay in women’s football is nothing new, if you look back as far as during World War I, pioneering figure and Dick Kerr Ladies goalscorer. Lily Parr was well known for being gay as she lived with her partner Mary up until her death aged 73. Why is it much more accepted in women’s football?
There still is a large stigma around men being gay, more so than for women. For men, it is traditionally more acceptable to be LGBT in stereotypical ‘women’s sports’ such as figure skating or dance, therefore it is understandable that it is more accepted for gay women in more ‘masculine’ sports like football or rugby. Football has long been a ‘male sport’ with masculine traits of strength and power, therefore more ‘feminine’ presenting men can get a lot more homophobic abuse for being different. The truth is that these barriers and stereotypes need to be broken down, although women may present more ‘masculine’ in more ‘masculine’ sports like football, they are not necessarily gay and are too often branded as ‘lesbian’.
One of the best examples of acceptance in women’s football is FIFA Women’s World Cup winners Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger. The two have been a couple for many years but earlier this year, they tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony. Although neither had to ‘come out’ publicly, they have still gained the attention of LGBT media outlets and fans. This seems to be the case for most footballers, in modern days like these there’s no need to come out publicly to media. Strangely, it is still questioned by many male orientated media outlets asking about the presence of lesbian players in the dressing room. This question that has long been cited as a reason to why male players often don’t come out during their playing careers due to the inherent belief that because someone is homosexual that they are attracted to everyone of the same sex, which certainly isn’t true. The question was once staged to USA defender and FIFA Women’s World Cup winner Kelley O’Hara who looked rather dumbfounded replied ‘why would it be a problem’.
It seems to be much easier for women’s players to just talk about who they are without expecting backlash, maybe a few raised eyebrows (usually from men), it doesn’t often make front page news. One of the most iconic moments was during a quick-fire question segment of an interview in the Netherlands with FA Women’s Super League top scorer Vivianne Miedema in which she was asked if she’d prefer a ‘bad boy or ideal son-in-law.’ She looked at the interviewer, a bit off put by the personal question and replied, ‘you mean ideal daughter-in-law.’ Miedema is openly gay and has never hidden her relationship with Arsenal teammate Lisa Evans, she has previously spoken about how ‘If someone was to come out and that player is fully respected, from there on it would be easy for a lot of other boys to come out as well’.
For all the good stories related to being LGBT in women’s football, there are still some negative ones. In December 2009, Dutch coach Vera Pauw removed players Dyanne Bito and Claudia Van Den Heiligenberg from the squad due to what she called ‘personal reasons’. It later came to light and is widely believed that it was due to the fact that the pair were in a lesbian relationship, which Pauw was worried could affect the whole team. Likewise, in Nigerian women’s football, the youth teams for The Super Falcons are taught that it’s not acceptable to be who they are. Many Nigerian companies often shy away from making sponsorship deals with the team because of the ‘misconception’ that they are ‘synonymous with lesbianism’ as same sex relationships are banned in Nigeria.
Although being LGBT in women’s football may not be completely accepted worldwide, it certainly is in British women’s football, it is just as much a part of the game as the grass they play upon is. It is just a part of women’s football with it’s inclusive nature, the game as such can almost offer a ‘support group’ amongst fans and a place which fans an be themselves and not have to worry.