Numerous sports have cracked the glass ceiling with their first openly gay professional but the silence in football is deafening.
'I don't see why it's a big deal' is a response a number of football supporters have to the campaign for LGBT+ equality. 'It's not an issue these days' but in reality, it's a bigger issue than it ever has been before.
Silhouettes on tabloid front pages speculating about a mystery Premier League footballers' sexuality turns progress into pantomime. The longer football goes without openly gay professionals, the more the stigma is fuelled and the further we are from truly ensuring it 'isn't a big deal'.
Whether they're in the spotlight of professional sport or otherwise, it's nobody's place to tell an LGBT+ person when to come out. To encourage a high profile individual or group to do so, footballing bodies have a responsibility to lay foundations of acceptance. Anyone willing to put themselves under such scrutiny deserves to be met halfway by The FA, Premier League and EFL making visible progress.
| #LUFC are proud to be supporting @stonewalluk’s #RainbowLaces campaign tonight pic.twitter.com/3xmUv0kVTZ— Leeds United (@LUFC) December 1, 2017
Visibility has been the defining success of Stonewall’s latest Rainbow Laces campaign. With each of the top 92 clubs participating, it’s become more than the colours stringing players’ boots together. Leeds United captain Liam Cooper wore a rainbow captain’s armband in televised fixtures against Aston Villa and Barnsley, LGBT+ supporters’ group Marching Out Together’s logo featured on the screen in front of over 30,000 fans and rainbow flags flew in each corner of the pitch. Each Premier League and EFL club has contributed on a similar scale.
Stonewall's campaign has claimed new ground this season, harnessing TV broadcasters' seismic impact on modern football to be taken seriously. The issue of equality in football has been taken into the homes of millions of football fans; Sky Sports' graphics have been clad with rainbow colours in recent weeks with their presenters and pundits pinned with campaign badges.
Stonewall, LGBT+ supporters' groups and their allies are hugely important if football is to progress. The campaign doesn't end when one professional footballer comes out but when the sport truly holds itself to the standards of equality expected in wider society. Football remains some way from that point but Rainbow Laces' recent campaign is unquestionable progress.
Sometimes when the odds are stacked against your team, you get one back and a win you deemed unlikely feels possible. The Rainbow Laces campaign feels like that late goal; we've picked the ball out the back of the net, sprinted back to the centre circle and have the confidence and passion to turn things around.
Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Pete Allison and everyone at MarchingOutTogether, the Leeds United LGBT fan group. For more information on the group and their efforts, head over to MarchingOutTogether.co.uk or visit them on Twitter or Facebook.