Marching Out Together, Leeds United’s LGBT+ fan group has just celebrated its first birthday.
We have recently been proudly celebrating the group’s many achievements - including having a permanent home for our large flag inside Elland Road, which visibly shows the club celebrates inclusivity and diversity amongst its fans.
We are proud to be Leeds United fans, and proud the club has shown it wants to welcome everyone to Elland Road and wants to play its part in challenging homophobia in football.
We woke up this morning to discover someone on Facebook had started a petition to remove Marching Out Together’s flag from the South East corner.
This individual has 4000 followers. He maintained that our group has no place in football and claims the flag (and, by extension, Marching Out Together) is not needed. There were messages of support for the guy, with many using offensive and vile homophobic language - similar to words used by a small minority of fans when Leeds United announced they were sponsoring Leeds Pride. In 2018 some people seem to think it is perfectly reasonable to abuse and threaten LGBT+ fans on social media.
Within a few hours of the petition being launched, the votes to keepour flag were flooding in and so were messages of support for what we our doing. We didn’t need to call for the help of our members and followers to get this response - the support for us came from ordinary fans (presumably the majority being straight allies).
After repeatedly deleting the messages that criticised him, and heavily losing the vote, he deleted his post - well and truly defeated.
The support voiced by the majority of fans was brilliant - they demonstrated that Leeds United fans really do embrace the concept of “All Leeds Aren’t We?”. And it typifies the overwhelming support we have received from the fans since we launched the group - for which we have been both proud and grateful.
But this incident demonstrates why LGBT+ fan groups such as ours are needed in football. The small minority who do post homophobic comments saying we have no place in football fail totally to understand the irony of their remarks - the abuse helps remind us why we exist!
So why is there currently a rapid growth of LGBT+ fan groups throughout the country? Why are they increasingly receiving support from their clubs - with signage inside grounds, articles in programmes, presence at Pride, appointing player ambassadors and so on?
The answer is that football hasn’t traditionally been a welcome safe home for LGBT+ fans or players. The world of football has thankfully sought to tackle racism in the sport over the years (with Kick It Out currently celebrating its 25th anniversary) - but it has lagged behind society in embracing diversity when it comes to the LGBT+ community.
Fortunately football is changing - and Leeds United with a progressive owner (Radrizzani) and a hugely supportive CEO (Angus Kinnear) want our club to be at the forefront of change.
The support we have received from the club during our first year has been great, and we will be progressing other areas together in the coming year. Having our flag flying in the ground shows that the club is prepared to make a very public statement every match day, to everyone in the ground: LGBT+ fans, their families, friends and allies are welcome. If any fan were to hear homophobic abuse during a game, then they would know a complaint would be taken seriously, by a club that will not tolerate such behaviour.
The flag being displayed inside the ground is a powerful statement for fans - but the media and players will also realise that Leeds United is a club embracing change.
There was a dark shameful time in our history when black players chose not to sign for our club for fear of racist abuse from our fans. We now have the opportunity to ensure that any gay or bi-sexual player (even if he isn’t ready to come out) will know they will be playing for a club, and in front of a set of fans, who will support him for who he is.
Robbie Rogers retired from football whilst at Leeds United, because he felt unable to come out in Britain whilst playing the game. He did start to play again in the USA, but was the only out gay player in the world at that time. Robbie is our patron, and he said that if there had been a group such as ours when he was at Leeds United, it would have helped give him confidence, knowing there was support on the terraces.
Justin Fashanu remains the only player in the professional game who came out whilst playing in Britain. He tragically committed suicide 20 years ago as a result of homophobic abuse from with the game and in the media.
Can anyone think of another walk of life in this country today where not a single gay/bi-sexual person feels safe being honest about who they are? For any football fan who claims that homophobia is not an issue within the sport we love, can they please explain why there is no out gay/bi player in the game?
For any person who claims Marching Out Together has no place at Leeds United - tell that to those LGBT+ fans who have felt encouraged to return to watch matches since we set up the group a year ago. Tell that to the two members who have felt empowered to come out in the last year as a result of the support the group has offered.
The support we received from the 60,000 people on the streets when we marched at Leeds Pride; the support we get on social media from the overwhelmingly majority of fans; the positive messages we get on match days; and the compliments we receive from fans of other clubs - all show that most people understand why the group exists and support our aims to tackle homophobia where it remains.
So a year after nervously driving up to Elland Road to ask the club whether they would support us forming an LGBT+ fan group, unsure of how they would respond, we are proud of the fantastic support we have received from the club and our amazing fans. We are delighted to have established a presence at the club, and to have its backing for further change in the future. And we are especially proud to have our flag displayed permanently beneath the scoreboard - showing everyone is welcome at Elland Road.
Thank you everyone for your backing.
Marching Out Together
Marching On Together
We’d like to thank Marching Out Together for their article and their glowing support towards the club and its fans.