On Saturday 21 January there was a Guardian article about three men convicted of hate crime for distributing leaflets with death threats to gay people. I thought about writing then, but it was just a few days after the last blog post. However, I was stimulated again to write on the subject of sexuality after watching last night’s BBC3 programme called “Britain’s Gay Footballers” – of which there are none – at least not openly so.
The film maker was Amal Fashanu, the niece of Justin Fashanu who committed suicide in 1988 after coming out as the first openly gay professional footballer in the UK. The context of the film was for Amal to understand more about her uncle and to find out how his legacy impacts on the game today – suffice to say, it doesn’t. There are still no “out” footballers, except one she found playing in the Swedish fourth division.
Can it be that there is so much homophobia in today’s society that people still cannot be honest about their sexuality? Of course there is! Statistically, there have to be hundreds of gay players, yet none have been able to own it publicly. Perhaps, we could point a finger of blame at their fellow professionals. Although some of them might have a problem with having a gay team-mate, I think the fault lies clearly with the fans. A player would expose themselves to massive verbal abuse on a weekly basis if they came out. Surely, it is time we lived in a more civilises society and perhaps the football authorities need to be taking a lead on this.
The pack mentality of the football fan is what causes the problem. Many supporters can be heard hurling the most unbelievable verbal violence against players from the opposing team (or their own, if they are not playing well) and, of course at referees too. I am sure that many of these same people would not allow themselves to think like this in their workplace or home – so what happens on the terraces? Why does the pack reduce their behaviour level? There are many stories of the professional, maybe a teacher or accountant, who becomes a football hooligan on Saturdays – a real life Jekyll and Hyde transformation.
The concept of this type of pack behaviour reminded me of Alan, someone who contacted me last July asking for advice about his relationship with his employers regarding his sexuality. He is gay, something that had never been an issue for him; his friends and family had known since he came out in his early twenties. However, he had not yet plucked up the courage to do so at work, although he really wanted to. He is a financial advisor, working for a large company in the city.
When he began his employment four years ago, he was sure he could come out, but thought he would give it a few weeks to let his colleagues get to know him first. During an impromptu after-work pub visit, his new “friends” began telling jokes and it wasn’t long before homophobic gags got onto their menu. Rather than stating his objection and reasons why, he allowed himself to participate; he did not want to be seen as an outsider.
Four years on, he was still enjoying occasional evenings out with the team and hearing the same anti gay rhetoric – though he said most of it was sexist humour – and as a result had still not found the confidence to come out. He liked his friends and generally found them pleasant, though they behave a little like the football fan – they are pack animals and behave poorly, perhaps to the lowest common denominator, when in a group and off the leash.
It was not been easy to advise Alan, except to assure him of his rights and offer support if he chose to come out. It was also suggested that his employers could commission a “Working with Difference” workshop for his colleagues – they declined. What Alan was sure of was that if he had been braver, he would have come out on day one which would have avoided the problems he faced and any potential embarrassment. In fact, he said he was thinking of leaving his job and starting over with a new group of colleagues.
Clearly sexuality is still an issue for many in our society. Some have a religious predisposition to object and others do so for personal reasons. However, for most of those with homophobic tenancies, it is just a continued failing to recognise difference in others and be tolerant of them. Each of us can choose where, how and with whom we live our life; that is our right. It is not for the majority, or indeed any one individual, to tell us that what we choose is wrong. Perhaps this presents an opportunity to look more closely at our own lives….
Would your behaviour hold up individual or public scrutiny?
So as I often do, I finish with some questions. How would you behave in similar situations, are you a pack animal, susceptible to the behaviour of the pack? Are you liable to abusive outbursts when watching a football match or discriminatory joke telling in the pub? Would your language stand up to the enquiry of your works equality advisor or your partner at home? Have you been known to partake in sexist, homophobic or racist humour?
I would be really interested to hear your thoughts and get a discussion going on the blog. Please feel free to comment.