Pride Month, along with LGBT+ History Month in February, is a focused time of the year for our community to promote equality and diversity, increase the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and raise awareness and education about the challenges that affect our community.
I say “our” community, because as well as being chief information officer at the FA - where I have responsibility for running and transforming all the technology that we deliver to football in England - I am also a gay man.
Before joining just less than two years ago, I hadn’t worked in sport before and I must admit that football was not a big part of my life. We hear a lot about how football has the power to change society and change lives, and I didn’t think that really applied to the LGBT+ community.
How wrong I was. I've been amazed to discover the level of participation in football from my community, whether that be as fans, players, coaches, parents, referees, or one of the 900 FA employees across England.
I’ve been blown away by the passion, devotion and enthusiasm of every single person I’ve met. That passion and devotion makes it even more heartbreaking when we continue to see homophobia, biphobia and transphobia being reported to us, whether it comes from players in grassroots games or attendees at the largest stadia in the country.
We’re committed to supporting the LGBT+ community in football. As part of that, I was overjoyed to lead our group marching in the 2019 Pride in London parade for the very first time – and not before time!
Over 50 LGBT+ employees and allies joined us on the day, and we were overwhelmed by the support we received as we marched down Regent Street towards Trafalgar Square. The banner that we marched with highlighted our firm belief that football is truly For All – regardless of gender, identity, sexuality, ethnicity, ability or disability, faith or age.
The FA needs to be an employer that reflects the society it supports. As a member of the senior management team, I’m proud to say that we are building an open and inclusive place to work, which welcomes talent regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality.
As part of that work, we've partnered with Stonewall to deliver two courses to our staff. The first course is designed to support our LGBT+ colleagues who want to behave as role models in football. Almost more importantly, though, is the second course, focused on allies within the FA, who don’t identify as LGBT but who want to support and help build an inclusive and welcoming organisation. Our community will always be in the minority, and it’s only through our allies that we will drive out discrimination in the game.
As nice as it is to say that we support LGBT+ employees, we know that’s not the most important thing. We have a responsibility to call out harmful, discriminatory behaviour across football in England, and the FA is committed to tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia across football at every level of the game. We continue to work with our partners across the game, whether that’s Stonewall or LGBT fan groups, to encourage fans and players to report abuse whether it occurs at national or local level.
Reporting is only the start of the process. We need to take prompt action. We are currently trialing a more streamlined disciplinary process across a few counties which, if successful, will be rolled out across England and will allow reported cases to be dealt with more quickly.
Sanctioning is important, but as important is the education which follows on from this sanction. We will continue to educate the game across England about the importance of football as a safe space for everyone, including the LGBT+ community.
At an event with FA chairman, Greg Clarke, to celebrate LGBT+ History Month in February, we heard from one of our partners at AKT who highlighted the sad fact that a quarter of homeless youth are LGBT+, and that over three-quarters of that group believed that coming out to their parents was the main factor in their homelessness.
Imagine if some of those kids could see their local grassroots club as a safe space for them to find friends, allies, support and encouragement as they go through these difficult times. How different could that number be? Education must be – and is – front and centre in our plans to drive out discrimination from the game and allow football to be an even more powerful force for change in society.
Being an LGBT+ football fan, player or participant can feel exhausting. It often feels like everything must be seen through a lens of activism, rather than just pure enjoyment of the game. We are making progress, and the game is made better because of our involvement.
Let’s celebrate that, while acknowledging that our work is far from done. Football – and, indeed, society as a whole – has never been more diverse, and our work to celebrate diversity and make the game more inclusive and safer for everybody will continue to be an ongoing priority for the FA for years to come.