Creating Space: LGBT Clubs in the World of Football

Historically, sports have been hotbeds for abuse and anti-LGBT behaviour. Although there are challenges around the fans of the game, sports are seeing changes in inclusivity. This is not only in the established Football Association leagues, but in the development of LGBT specific leagues and clubs. Athletes are creating the space in the existence of grassroots football and international competition. But where will this lead? Will we one day see the rise of LGBT leagues at a higher level? What are the major competitions in the LGBT football league world?

In honour of LGBT History Month, it is important to recognise the progress in recent history that has often been underappreciated and overlooked. This includes the important advances made in the world of LGBT football clubs (and sports as a whole) by organizations such as the Gay Games, the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association, and the Gay Football Supporters Network. As a member of the LGBT community myself, for a long time I was not aware of these organizations, or the existence of community-orientated leagues. While it’s not mainstream or top tier football, it is important to raise awareness of historic LGBT spaces.

Stonewall FC

Stonewall FC is the first Football Association recognised LGBT football club, now 30 years old. They currently boast impressive records not only in the local grassroots league (Middlesex County Division One), but the London Unity League, the Gay Games, and the International Gay & Lesbian Football Association (IGLFA) World Cup. All together they have totalled 19 honours in all competitions, the highest of any LGBT football club worldwide. As the first, and largest of these clubs, Stonewall FC have begun creating space not only inclusive of, but specifically for, members of the LGBT community.

This club also offers important opportunities for socialisation and acceptance in a competitive and athletic environment. The value of an FA recognised, visible LGBT club is immeasurable. For youth looking for representation in sports Stonewall FC is, at least at the local level, a club to look to. Whatever the future of LGBT leagues may be, Stonewall FC is an important piece of sporting history.

LGBT Competitions Worldwide

The Gay Games, founded in 1982, are not limited only to football, but offer over 30 sports. These games are open to athletes of any level as well as any sexual orientation or gender identity. One of the most important aspects of the Gay Games is their competition scholarship. This scholarship affords the opportunity for LGBT athletes in conservative countries to experience the inclusivity of the games. Not only does this encourage inclusion in sport, but helps individuals come to terms with their identities in places that may seek to repress it.   

The IGLFA (International Gay and Lesbian Football Association) was founded ten years after the Gay Games. They share the goal of promoting inclusion for LGBT athletes in the sporting world. Although it has hosted fewer tournaments in recent years, it initially ran the IGLFA World Cup, one of the many trophies in the cabinet of Stonewall FC. Along with the Gay Games, the IGLFA is international, and influential in bringing LGBT inclusion to sports around the world. Their work in promoting new LGBT run leagues could be a sign of the growth not only in number, but in quality, as they reach new and diverse athletes. Over 30 countries are involved with the association and compete in its tournaments. Both are invaluable to the progress of LGBT rights around the world.

LGBT Football Leagues

The UK currently hosts the only national LGBT football league, the GFSN (Gay Football Supporters Network), founded in 2002. They are most active in organising social events for supporters, but also run a historic national league with 15 clubs and counting. The GFSN operates on a much larger scale than many of the local LGBT leagues that have existed in the UK thus far. This international first is a highly underappreciated advancement in the world of LGBT sport. 

To date, Sheffield does not sport an LGBT football league, but as they grow in quantity and popularity, it is likely that one will be founded here eventually. Yorkshire’s only club, the Yorkshire Terriers, compete in both the GFSN and Midlands LGBT leagues.

There is one concern with the growth of LGBT leagues. On one hand the right for LGBT people to play for mainstream clubs is undeniable, but the alienation that an athlete may feel can take a toll on their wellbeing and discourage their love of football. A safe and inclusive space can encourage many players that would not have otherwise had the opportunity. On the other, athletes may feel pressure to stay within the LGBT league, potentially holding them back from higher paid and higher tier football opportunities. Granted, the existence of LGBT run leagues doesn’t require athletes to choose between one or the other. However, this issue will likely come into play if and when more clubs gain prominence and Football Association recognition.

Throughout the world of sport, LGBT athletes are creating space for themselves in a historically antiquated sector of public life. Organisations like the Gay Games, IGLFA and others have been influential not only in the promotion of inclusivity, but in encouraging LGBT clubs like Stonewall FC to grow. Without opportunities for competition, it’s unlikely that we would see so many new LGBT clubs and leagues beginning to form, albeit ones that are less nationally recognized than Stonewall. These clubs and organisations have created history for the LGBT community. Whether we will see more FA accreditation for LGBT clubs, only time will tell. But thus far, the great strides made deserve recognition from the LGBT community this history month.

William Swift

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