The Stonewall Awards celebrate the positive contribution people and groups make to the lives of LGBT people throughout the UK.
The winner of the 2011 ‘Sports Award of the Year’ was Anton Hysén, a 21-year-old Swedish footballer who is one of the only openly gay professional football players in the world.
But he wasn’t the first to come out.
I’d like to share with you the story of Justin Fashanu. The last name might sounds vaguely familiar to some – he was the brother of Wimbledon legend John Fashanu.
Justin’s not as well known as his brother is, but he should be.
You see, not only was he the first million-pound black player? He was the first – ever – openly gay professional football player.
He came out 1990 – managers refused to let him train with his teammates; fellow professionals told him gays had no place in sport. His brother? Disowned him.
And in 1998, he committed suicide.
Every year, I see the LGBT sections of political parties speak out loudly and proudly – and rightly so – when people are refused entry to pubs, or B&Bs, or narrow-minded MPs of public figures say marriage is not for the queer community.
But they never make a big deal of this.
And this saddens me.
Sport, in general, is a widely neglected area when it comes to gay rights. Having LGBT versions of events such as the World Cup & Olympics is all well and good, but why do we act as if this is simply enough?
Why are we more willing to ignore this divide in sport, when we campaign so vigorously in other arenas?
Simply signing the Sports Charter is not enough. We need to do more.
The most popular sport amongst the children of the UK is football. Globally, it’s a multi-billion pound industry.
And yet we seem quite content to ignore the issues of homophobia (and transphobia), allowing kids to grow up thinking that to be a professional footballer you have to be straight or closeted, indirectly implying the homophobic abuse is merely just part of the game.
Yes, it’s true that simply holding events on these days won’t do much to change things in the short-term, but people need to be more aware of it. And the more people who are aware, the more we are able to help educate and, eventually, break the pattern of behaviour.
When Feb 19th came round last year, I was genuinely saddened by the complete lack of coverage LGBT sites and groups gave to the Football v Homophobia campaign – an international effort to bring to the front the very real issues people are presented with.
Where were the events? The marches? The talks? The kick-a-bouts between local LGBT groups in parks?
I was hoping this year might be different – that, after the exposure given to the problem of racism in football, other groups would up their visibility and join the debate, pointing out there are many, many other problems we should address alongside those already mentioned.
But it looks like I’m going to be disappointed this year, too.