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The Harsh Reality of Being a Queer Sports Fan

Brazil supporter. Brazilian man fan celebrating on soccer / footbal match isolated on white background. Brazil colors. Person is blowing a horn.

It’s officially World Cup season.  This year’s tournament kicked off Thursday in Russia, and on Tuesday, the FIFA Congress voted to host the tournament in North America in 2026.  All in all, it’s an exciting time for soccer fans, especially those fortunate enough to snag stadium seats and see the action firsthand. Their biggest concerns are probably the view from their seats and the price of beer.  But LGBTQ fans have more to worry about.

 

Last week, The Advocate reported that queer fans were worried about their safety at this year’s World Cup.  With Russia’s laws against “gay propaganda” and a long history of disturbing violence against our community, it seemed avid soccer fans could be risking a lot to support a sport or a team that they love.

 

FARE, an advocacy group championing equality, released a guide for LGBTQ World Cup fans.  It details Russia’s stance on homosexuality and offers tips for a harassment-free experience.  Despite FARE’s cautionary advice, an LGBTQ Pride House was set to open.  The House would serve as a safe space for queer fans during the tournament.

 

The World Cup situation is unusually layered, as Russia has been incredibly hostile and discriminatory against our community.  But beyond these specific issues, being a queer sports fan is quite the conundrum.

 

I think of it from my perspective.  I’m not necessarily a sports fan, but I’ve been to NBA games, NFL games, MLB games, and the U.S. Open.  When you’re in a space that’s overwhelmingly heterosexual, you can’t help but assume you need to “tone it down”—how you dress, what you say, how you show affection to your partner—out of fear that a drunk straight fan will taunt you or attack you.

 

We as a community view the sports world as generally homophobic—the teams, the stadiums, the fantasy football leagues, the Facebook groups.  Alpha male pride is on full display in every aspect, and this isn’t just perception—it’s fact.

 

A 2015 international study revealed that 82% of LGBTQ respondents had witnessed or experienced homophobia in sports.  This included verbal slurs, and many of the respondents reported that these incidents happened before the age of 22.

 

So, how can you embrace your sexuality, proudly belong to our community, and still embrace your love of sport?

 

First, the professional leagues need to take steps to attract us to stadiums.  They can do this by creating safe spaces and conditioning hetero fans to practice inclusion.  Just last week, the Boston Red Sox hosted an LGBT Pride Night against the Detroit Tigers, and they painted their logo in the colors of the rainbow flag.  It was a moving display of acceptance. But some fans didn’t take kindly to the gesture, expressing reservations about celebrating Pride or asking for a “straight night”.  The response to the Red Sox’s Pride Night perfectly illustrates why more events like this are needed.

 

Some fans are fighting back through activism and community.  Back in 2013, a group of UK soccer fans compiled a year’s worth of derogatory comments in a dossier, which they presented to the Football Association.  They also published it, leading to a series of powerful discussions and advertisements about tolerance.  Additionally, a group of fans in Brighton formed the Gay Gooners, the first-ever LGBTQ soccer fan group in England.  A series of other groups soon followed suit.

 

It’s clear that the treatment of gay sports fans won’t change overnight.  It will take time, support, policy changes, demonstrations of goodwill (like Pride Night), and activism on our part to create a more inclusive space in stadiums here at home and around the world.  And surely, more out and proud pro athletes will help the cause. But we just have to start. There are so many queer fans out there who feel they can’t take part in these events because their safety is at stake.  The sooner we begin this work, the sooner they can fully embrace and express who they are.

 

Thus, it’s important to watch what transpires during the World Cup, as it could be a major indicator of things to come.  

What do you think?

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