A look at some of the strides queer fan groups have made in recent years. And some of the ongoing challenges.
Dexter Quinn was a longtime soccer fan with a Liver bird tattooed on his arm. Like many Los Angeles residents, he was looking forward to the inaugural season of the new Los Angeles Football Club.
Then, his son came out to him.
Inspired by his family and LGBTQ+ friends, Quinn wanted to carve out an LGBTQ+-affirming space for soccer fans at his new club, starting with their inaugural home match. Unfortunately, the excitement quickly turned sour, as fans were participating in a homophobic goal kick chant.
”It was really embarrassing,” he says. “I had my son with me. I was cringing. But the other supporters groups reached out to me with no hesitation.” The club and supporters groups held a meeting in response, and all the capos of the 3252 supporters’ section showed up.
Since then, Quinn has worked to cultivate an affirming environment for LGBTQ+ supporters at his club on and off the pitch, as the initial founder and president of the supporters group Pride Republic. Pride Republic works with the club to create an affirming environment for LGBTQ+ fans in the stadium, such as working with the club to ensure security is better trained to ensure the safety of LGBTQ+ supporters, as well as building community outside of the stadium, hosting watch parties and events primarily concentrated in the gay mecca of West Hollywood.
“The more Pride Republic is in the stadium and visible, the more it wears down homophobia in the culture,” Quinn says.
As professional soccer grows in popularity and scope in North America, LGBTQ supporters are working to build communities and carve out spaces by—and for—themselves. LGBTQ+ supporters groups like Seattle Sounders’ Pride of the Sound, Atlanta United’s All Stripes, and Pride Republic have all joined the fabric of MLS support in recent years. FC Cincinnati, the most recent arrivals to MLS, have the Queen City Queens, whose animated Twitter presence praises the Orange and Blue and, occasionally, our Lord and Savior, Britney Spears. Even LGBTQ+ supporters of lower-division clubs are building that infrastructure, like Energy FC’s Main Street Greens.
In 2017, as Atlanta United were playing their first matches at Bobby Dodd Stadium, soccer supporters David Prophitt and Nick Jones noticed their LGBTQ+ friends checking into the matches on Facebook. What began with a handful of fans grew to 400 paid members in the club’s second season.
“You can be a coach, or someone who’s never played, or someone doesn’t know the offside rule,” says All Stripes club liaison Adam McCabe. “It was really important to have a place where we could be safe to be ourselves and enjoy the sport we love. There are other supporters that are very inclusive and very welcoming, but sometimes there’s this greater feeling when you’re in your own community, where you don’t have to worry about being judged.”
In conjunction with the meteoric rise of Atlanta United, All Stripes had a meteoric season in 2018: they surpassed 1,000 Facebook group members, hosted 20 tailgates and 19 watch parties and raised nearly $6,000 for nonprofits like Jerusalem House and Athlete Ally. McCabe says the group plans to expand on a successful season in 2019 by defining leadership, adding committees and securing local sponsors including a home bar, Georgia Beer Garden and a media sponsor, Project Q.
But McCabe says the group’s biggest priority for 2019 is leveraging the new leadership, growing membership and local business partnerships to ensure All Stripes is as inclusive as possible, and represents and celebrates LGBTQ+ soccer-loving Atlantans of all ages, races, sexualities and genders.
“Atlanta is a transient city, and a lot of people have moved here,” McCabe says. “It’s so diverse and the people who go to this game, are from all walks of life. It’s the same thing we’re trying to promote with All Stripes and our mission. We want to include everybody in our community. If you have a passion for this sport, you’re allowed to be there and will interact with people who have had the same passion and a tie to this team.”
McCabe says one priority he has with All Stripes is to connect with other LGBTQ supporters groups in MLS and ensure that supporters of any club have somewhere to go. When FC Cincinnati played an away match at the beginning of the season, All Stripes invited the Queen City Queens to their tailgate to ensure LGBTQ+ fans would have a place to feel welcome and be themselves and have a good time around the match. “We gave them a home here,” he says.
Although MLS—and the sporting world in North America in general—has made strides to welcome and accept LGBTQ+ players and supporters, McCabe says there’s still work to be done. Many clubs down the North American soccer pyramid host Pride Nights now. Some are not without qualification, like FC Cincinnati’s “Equality Night,” which is held on the same day as Cincy’s Pride festival and has no specific mention of the LGBTQ+ community. For fans like Quinn, it’s hard not to see some of these gestures as pandering. He cites LAFC’s chief rivals, the Los Angeles Galaxy, whose owner, Philip Anschutz, has donated to anti-gay and anti-transgender organizations such as Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council. “How can I believe that a man like that, when his club has a Pride Night?”
For Pride Night in 2018, the 3252 collaborated with the club to have Quinn’s family give Adama Diomande the Man of the Match scarf on Pride Night. He says he’s seeing more families with LGBTQ+ parents and families welcomed and celebrated in the stands. “It was emotional for me, knowing that these [gay parents] will have what I have with my family and create those memories,” Quinn says. “Their son will remember going to soccer games with their dads, and people here are going to love them.”
MLS has certainly made strides toward inclusion, but as with the sporting world in general, there’s a long way to go. Many supporters were frustrated by MLS Commissioner Don Garber’s mealy-mouthed response to the presence of violent, far-right groups at clubs like NYCFC, and league-wide messaging often leads with vague platitudes like “Soccer For All” and “Don’t Cross the Line” as opposed to explicitly calling out racism or homophobia. Even clubs who have taken a strong stance against homophobia still struggle, like LAFC did with the “p***” goal kick chant during a playoff match at the end of last season. Last month, before the start of the 2019 season, LAFC and the 3252 announced a partnership with GLAAD and a policy stating anyone caught doing the chant will be banned from the stadium or have their memberships revoked.
While many soccer supporters take a grassroots approach to community building and advocating against hate, Quinn and McCabe stressed wanting to see a top-down approach at their clubs. For All Stripes, which recently became a 501(c)3, that includes wanting to become an official designated supporters group for Atlanta United. McCabe says United’s front office meets monthly with the club’s official supporters groups, and he sees this opportunity as a valuable seat at the table for LGBTQ+ supporters.
Official supporters groups also participate in the Atlanta Pride Parade with Atlanta United, and McCabe wants All Stripes to be part of that. “Supporters groups are an extension of your club, and the more accepting they are, the more accepting and inclusive the club will be,” McCabe says. “It’s all intertwined, but the clubs and the teams have a larger part to play in this and they don’t know how much good they can do.”
It’s personal for McCabe, too—as a professional footballer himself, he’s felt homophobic abuse as a player and as a supporter. He sees his role in All Stripes as a means of applying that institutional knowledge and serving his community. He works to build a listening community beyond Atlanta city limits, too, with his podcast, The Gay Footballer’s Podcast, where he interviews current and former LGBTQ+ footballers.
“I always look back at when I was a closeted footballer,” McCabe says. “‘What would have made that Adam’s experience better? What does that Adam need?’”
Lindsay Eanet can be seen reading at live shows around Chicago and next to you at your favorite bar, skipping over all your songs on the jukebox. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Paste, SEASON, GrokNation and others. She is the host & producer of I’ll Be There for You, a new podcast about pop culture and coping. But enough about her, let’s talk about you