This article was originally published in the OUT! Good Practice Handbook on Fighting Homophobia & Empowering LGBT+ Stakeholders in Football. To learn more about OUT!, visit the website. You can also read and/or download the handbook online.
In recent years, an increasing number of fans have become actively engaged in the fight against discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity in football.
While much of this fight has been conducted by LGBT+ fans themselves—through the formation of LGBT+ fans’ groups, for instance—allies have also played an important role.
What is an Ally?
An ally is somebody who supports marginalised groups. A straight ally is a non-LGBT+ person who makes a concerted effort to promote LGBT+ rights, representation, and causes.
One of the central insights of allyship as a concept is that it is not the responsibility of marginalised groups such as the LGBT+ community to oppose and transcend their own marginalisation—it is the responsibility of everybody.
This is as true in football as it is in wider society. Thankfully, straight allyship is well established in fandom and operates under many different guises.
It can be as simple as listening to the experiences and concerns of LGBT+ fans, providing them with a platform to reach a larger audience, and challenging stereotypes and inappropriate language and behaviour. At the more proactive end of the spectrum, it might involve initiatives to improve visibility and raise awareness—rainbow flag actions, participation in pride parades, lobbying clubs on matters of equality, diversity, and inclusion, integrating LGBT+ representatives within established fans’ groups, and so on.
Allyship in Action
Examples of such allyship abound.
A good case study at club level is LGBT+ fans’ group Proud and Palace’s #99reasons campaign, which sought to discourage the use of homophobic language when Crystal Palace played fierce rivals Brighton and Hove Albion in 2017. The latter have often been subjected to homophobic chants due the city’s prominent LGBT+ population. The message was a simple one: “There are 99 reasons to hate Brighton, but homophobia doesn’t need to be one of them.” 31 Palace fans’ groups signed up to and shared the message ahead of the game. This strategy is considered to have been a success, achieving the desired outcome and introducing an important conversation to the broader fanbase in the process.
At the national and transnational level, the work of Fussballfans Gegen Homophobie (FFGH) is particularly noteworthy. The initiative was founded in 2011 by the fans department at German club Tennis Borussia Berlin in cooperation with the Lesbian and Gay Association Berlin-Brandenburg. It was a response to regular homophobic abuse directed at the club and involved the display of a banner emblazoned with the eponymous slogan and a picture of two male players kissing.
The banner proved so popular amongst fans of other clubs that it has been exhibited in over a hundred grounds since its first outing. This popularity led to the formation of a network of likeminded fans and fans’ groups across the world. There are now FFGH-style networks in Austria, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, and banners inspired by the project have appeared in stadia as far and wide as Croatia, Greece, Israel, and the United States.