Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Speaking Out: Time is Long Overdue for a Gay-Friendly MLS

If the 2011-12 Premiership season in England has seen the issue of racism finally get the serious attention it deserves - with superstars such as John Terry and Luis Suárez either already punished for or charged with having made racist comments - the same cannot necessarily be said of discrimination toward the gay community. In fact, despite the best efforts of organizations such as The Justin Campaign, named in honor of the first openly gay footballer, Justin Fashanu (pictured above), there is still a major stigma attached to members of the LGBT community across all areas of the game.

The number of prominent openly gay soccer players can probably be counted on one hand, terrace culture and supporters groups continue to tolerate insensitive, homophobic chants, and even fans of the game can be wary about coming out of the closet to their fellow supporters. Despite the tremendous strides made in recent years, including, locally, New York's 2011 passage of the Marriage Equality Act, an ugly undercurrent of homophobia continues to permeate sports in general and soccer specifically. It's something that we feel is long overdue stamping out.

That's why we are proud to announce today that we are allying ourselves with Gay4Soccer, a movement founded by a group of fans from across the league who are working to make Major League Soccer- and the culture surrounding it - a model of gay-friendliness and an example for others around the world. Their goals include fostering an environment where gay players will be comfortable being open about their sexuality, and discouraging discriminatory terrace chants and behavior.

Anyone who's been to a Red Bulls game and sat in a supporters section has probably heard anti-gay slurs, whether it's a derogatory reference to a referee, a rival supporters' group or an opposing player (and not just in English). As someone with gay family members and a number of gay friends, such chants have always made me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. They're a black eye for the supporters groups involved, and hardly encourage an atmosphere of tolerance.

Going forward, we hope to be able to work with Gay4Soccer on issues of concern. In the meantime, please take the time to check out the latest column from their RBNY beat writer Kevin, which you can find here.

And for those who think we are making some kind of political statement and are unhappy about it (I'm sure there are a few), I can only answer that we feel strongly that this is an issue of basic human rights - one that should cut across party or ideology.
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