Liverpool will be decked out in rainbow colours once again this weekend as the city’s annual Pride event takes place, with local people joining forces with visitors and tourists in order to show support for the LGBT+ community.
Six years after they first supported the event, Liverpool Football Club will once again have a presence in the festivities in 2018, with club representatives taking part in the yearly parade, and the Kop being lit up with the colours of the rainbow flag across the weekend.
So, what with us being in the 21st century and all, you’d assume the response to the club’s support has been overwhelmingly positive, right?
Err, not exactly.
In amongst the slew of bigoted and archaic responses to messages published on the Reds’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, a few consistent threads appear.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) July 27, 2018
The first is the abominable willingness of many of the club’s online followers to launch into obscenity-laden streams of vitriol, enraged beyond measure that the club would even dare to offer its solidarity to the thousands, if not millions, of Liverpool-supporting LGBT+ folk worldwide.
Others seem to veil their disapproval with comments based on the notion that “politics and football should not be mixed”. This despite the fact that football, and sport generally, is one of the cornerstones of modern society and plays a major role in defining public perception.
Is the Hillsborough disaster and the fight for justice not political? Is the FIFA corruption scandal amid the awarding of the World Cup to Russia and Qatar not political? Is the explicit racism which dominated English football until the 90s, and which continues to exist in some places, not political?
Anything which revolves around money and power, as football so clearly does, is innately political.
Some respondents seem to suggest that the club should not acknowledge the importance of the LGBT+ cause because progress has been made since the turn of the century. They are ignorant to the fact that there is still an awfully long way left to go.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) July 20, 2017
Homosexual relationships remain illegal in 74 nations worldwide. Even more countries maintain a pervasive and dangerous streak of homophobia and transphobia, although they might not having specific legislation which discriminates against sexual and gender minorities. Almost of half of the planet is pretty much inaccessible to millions of people simply because they are attracted to the same sex, or because they wish to change their gender.
But it is not just in less developed countries that homophobia and transphobia remain rife; Western nations may have made progress, but that progress remain very recent and inherently precarious.
Even in the United Kingdom, the wildly homophobic section 28 law, brought in by Margaret Thatcher to ensure that the state did “not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”, was only repealed in 2003. The current Prime Minister Theresa May called the repeal a “mistake”, and has a frankly atrocious voting record when it comes to LGBT+ issues like marriage and adoption.
— VisitLiverpool (@VisitLiverpool) July 27, 2018
The ever-increasing power of the far-right across the planet threatens the freedom of the LGBT+ community. One only has to note the rhetoric of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin or any of the other countless demagogues sprouting up across Europe lately to realise that it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the progress made on LGBT+ rights could easily be destroyed in the near future.
Football has an awfully long way to go in order to ensure it has a positive relationship with the LGBT+ community.
It is not just online where homophobia remains rife in the game. Homophobic slurs will be audible at every ground in the country at some point this season, as well the usual misogyny which also remains a huge problem.
It is quite incredible that still no top level male player in world football feels comfortable enough to come out as gay or bisexual. Women’s football, as it is in a number of ways, is way ahead of the men’s game in this regard, with a high number of high profile lesbian players being comfortable enough to be open about their sexuality. The public response has generally been very positive, too.
The presence of top level openly gay/bi male footballers would help greatly help to break down barriers which still exist in contemporary British society. One only has to look at the progress being made on race and religion by a Liverpool footballer at the moment to realise the power it could have.
Mohamed Salah’s status as a cultural icon since his transfer to Liverpool has potentially huge, and incredibly positive, ramifications beyond the pitch. The sight of a footballer who comes from an Arab, Egyptian, and Muslim background kneeling in prayer after every single goal he scores is an inadvertently very powerful act. An entire generation of people will grow up idolising Salah, taking note of every small thing he does, and to them, the act of Muslim prayer will be normalised. They will watch him do it every week for years, they will grow up with it, and they will be accepting of it. Their view of Islam will be based on positivity.
Though by no means perfect, football’s relationship with race has improved immeasurably over the past few decades, and that example must now be used in order to strengthen ties with LGBT+ supporters and players, too.
In an increasingly hate-filled, divisive and fearful world, Pride is a source of strength and solidarity for a community which continues to be oppressed and marginalised the world over.
Liverpool FC’s support for that can only be a good thing.