Call It Out 2019 at the London Stadium

6th September marked the kick off of Call It Out 2019 – a Europe-Wide convention addressing LGBT-phobia in football and it was co-hosted at the London Stadium by West Ham United and yours truly, Pride Of Irons!

Call It Out is an annual event coordinated by Pride In Football (PiF) – the UK affiliation for LGBT Football Fan Groups – and 2019 marked the third year of the event. What made it even more special is that PiF were in partnership with Football Supporters Europe (FSE) to combine the event with their very own Project Out!; an EU-funded initiative to fight homophobia and empower LGBT+ stakeholders in football.

With so many stakeholders, increased reach and more participation than ever before, the event needed a venue to do the occasion justice. Enter West Ham United and Pride Of Irons. Our partnership has been recognised as one of the best between a football club and its LGBT fan group and so it was a natural choice to hand us the responsibility of co-hosting the event.

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Now by this point you’re probably thinking we’re done with the names of organisations involved, but you’d be wrong. Another party came to the table to make this event happen and that’s the Attitude Magazine Foundation who work to enable organisations to make positive change for the LGBT community. Their help in coordinating the event cannot be underestimated and we offer them so much thanks and appreciation.

Friday 6th September kicked the event off with welcome drinks sponsored by Attitude. With so many attendees travelling not just across the country, but across Europe to attend, the evening gave attendees of the conference a chance to meet, chat and get to know each other. The wine and conversation flowed and there was plenty of chat about shared experience, challenges and lessons to be shared. Speeches from PiF Chair Di Cunningham, publisher and owner of Attitude Darren Styles, Sky Sports’ very own Mark McAdam and our co-chair Jim Dolan.

A few more glasses were drained before the close of the evening and the merriment was taken to the road for the more energetic attendees while the rest of us headed home for a good night’s sleep ahead of the main event the next day.

7th September was the day of the main event – the full conference of Call It Out 2019 and the launch of Project Out! The days kicked off with a presentation from Rory Magrath, PhD (Senior Lecturer and Football Studies & Business Course Leader at Solent University, Southampton) who launched the first ever study speaking exclusively to LGBT football fans. He gave an overview of his findings to date which were extremely interesting. Keep an eye on his Twitter for when the finished paper is released.

The morning and afternoon workshop sessions were broken up by networking sessions and stadium tours during which fans from other clubs showed a begrudging admiration for the London Stadium, though naturally always finished with “But I wouldn’t want my team to play here every week”.

 

The workshops were conducted by LGBT fans, for LGBT fans and included advice on how to run sustainable LGBT groups, presented by Ian from Newcastle’s United with Pride, discussion around Managing Social Media and Trolling by Pride Of Irons’ Jim Dolan and a discussion on Toxic International Competition Hosts by Joe White of Gay Gooners.

With PiF now boasting 50 LGBT football groups (in fact the 50th – Proud Rovers – was kicked off on the day), it’s so very important for us to not only share good practice and lessons learnt, but to try to drive for all of our clubs to work with us to make football a more inclusive place, not just for LGBT fans, but for everyone!

Alongside all of this action, Project Out! was going on with representatives from all over Europe speaking about fan/club interaction and giving recommendations around standards that could make up part of a handbook for clubs and governing bodies. West Ham and Pride Of Irons were represented by Supporter Services Manager Jake Heath and POI Treasurer Al Holmes who impressed everyone with the close relationship we have.

The end to a truly fantastic day was provided by a veritable smorgasbord of celebrity guests in a round table discussion chaired very kindly by Mark McAdam who stepped in at the last minute to cover Jess Creighton who was unable to make it.

Mark was joined by actor Charlie Condou, journalist Nicky Bandini, wrestler Brad Slayer, Olympic boxer Anthony Ogogo and our very own Alisha Lehmann.

Charlie spoke of the changing environment in football and how he feels as a parent taking his young children to games. Nicky spoke of her career in football journalism and the difference in atmosphere in stadiums and league across the continent. Brad had a very positive message about the acceptance of LGBT people in wrestling and Anthony told us his story of being an ally and officiating his sister’s wedding to her wife. Alisha spoke of the difference in women’s football and how different attitudes are.

As the weekend drew to a close, many selfies were taken, numbers exchanges and promises made to help lift each other up and make changes for the good of football. We may be rivals on the pitch, but outside of match days we are a community that supports each other.

Some fans departed for the long journey home while others strolled over to Hackney Wick together to watch the England game. The day was over but the work continues. Football is changing for the better and we’ll keep doing what we do until we’ve succeeded in making football accessible to everyone – as it should be.

To see more from the day, head over to the West Ham website.

If you don’t support West Ham and you’re wondering if your club has a group, you can find the full list here.

Maybe your club doesn’t have a group? If so, get in touch with Pride In Football who can help you start one.

 

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Help LGBT Chechens Flee Persecution

Our close friend Joe White from Gay Gooners travelled to Russia in 2018 for the World Cup and during his travels met many LGBT Russians. He learned a lot about the persecution they face but also the stories of LGBT people in Chechenya who were disappearing. Word from those in the country said that LGBT Chechens were being rounded up in concentration camps and executed. LGBT people and allies are mobilising to help these people flee to safety and you can help.

Joe’s story below:

After the horrors we’ve already heard that have happened in Chechnya, the start of 2019 confirmed our fears – it has begun again.

At least two people have already been killed, around 40 have been detained that the Russian LGBT Network are currently aware of.

Given that Friday 1st February marks the start of LGBT+ History Month (and is a Friday close to payday) we are asking people, LGBT+ friendly venues and groups to help raise funds to assist those affected by the Chechnya atrocities. The more that join in, whether to raise funds or awareness, the better. It is time to stand up against the hatred against the community across the world, especially from our privileged position.

LGBT+ History Month often is used as a way of reflecting how far we have come, and to celebrate those who fought for our rights we now largely enjoy. However across the world, our past is many people’s present. Without our support and our solidarity, they might not have the future we all deserve.

One of the main ways we can support the Russian LGBT Network in their work is through fundraising. It costs €4,000 (£3,513/$4,562) per person to help them escape and place them in secure accommodation. This is the most urgent need to help those suffering in Chechnya.

If you want to help, whether as a venue or by shaking a bucket and raising awareness, please get in touch.

https://lgbtnet.org/en/newseng/new-wave-persecution-against-lgbt-people-chechnya-around-40-people-detained-least-two-killed

Rainbow Laces – The Campaign

If you’ve read about the build up to the Rainbow Laces campaign, you’re probably wondering “So what happened next?”. Well here it is:

We start on Saturday 24th November – the day of that unfortunate 0-4 home loss to Manchester City – when nine Pride Of Irons members descended upon the London Stadium at 10:30am (on the day of a 3:00pm kick off). It was an early start but we were full of enthusiasm for what was to come. In planning for the Rainbow Laces campaign, West Ham United had invited POI members to take part in a video they were making to promote the campaign. As a committee, we jumped at the opportunity and on reaching out to our members, we were delighted to see there was appetite for them to step forward and tell their stories.

Myself (Jim Dolan) and POI Treasurer Al Holmes were joined by Richael, David, Claire, Mark, Michael, Andy and (celebrating his 10th birthday that day), Kenzie; a little boy with two dads who, as you will see, is wiser than many grown adults. On arrival we were taken pitch side for a few photos and where the filming started. We moved around the stadium throughout the morning including a stop at the SLO briefing where Al and I gave a short (okay, it was way too long – sorry guys!) presentation around POI, the Rainbow Laces campaign and LGBT supporters in football.

It was a fantastic opportunity for all involved and I would urge you to watch here, if for nothing else but to hear proof that the old “Out of the mouths of babes…” saying is true.

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The next day, another group of POI members attended the West Ham Women’s Rainbow Laces game against Bristol City where they deservedly won 2-0 even if the second goal came from an unfortunate misjudged back pass which a seemingly injured Jane Ross latched onto and calmly slotted away.

The whole team participated by wearing Rainbow Laces in their boots – as did Bristol City – and the club gave away free laces with every match day programme. West Ham Captain, Gilly Flaherty – an out gay woman who made her own video for Rainbow Laces – came over to say hello and stopped for a few photos. It was a fantastic atmosphere and a really cool stadium. Some POI members are already regular attendees but as a committee we are planning to get members together soon to come along soon en masse and cheer on the team!

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Finally to the mens Rainbow Laces match – the home game against Cardiff and a buzzing atmosphere coming off the back of a 0-3 away win against Newcastle United. Once again the London Stadium was lit up in rainbow colours with the club pulling out all the stops to show their support for LGBT people. I was interviewed pitch side before kick off by both the club and the Premier League, the campaign was featured heavily in the programme and the Supporter Liaison Officers were handing out rainbow laces to supporters around the stadium and little Kenzie – the star of our video – was a match day mascot and managed to bag a bunch of player autographs. Capped off with the second win in a row where we scored three goals, it was truly a night to remember.

Now the campaign might be over, but the work never stops. Our thanks go out to everyone involved in this amazing campaign, specifically calling out the staff behind the scenes at West Ham United who support us and our brave and wonderful members.

Rainbow Laces 2018 – The Lead Up…

Another year and another Rainbow Laces campaign complete and once again there is so much to talk about, but first, what is Rainbow Laces all about?

The campaign is run but Stonewall; the UK’s premier LGBT charity and aims to make sport welcoming and accessible to everyone. By wearing Rainbow Laces in their shoes, sportspeople can show their support of LGBT people and their right to participate in sport without fear of prejudice.

You may remember that West Ham United and Pride Of Irons were in the spotlight for the 2017 Rainbow Laces campaign and a year on, we’re still working together not just to  make this campaign a success, but throughout the season. Showing support for LGBT fans, staff and players.

Let’s start with the club itself and Supporter Care Manager Hugo Scheckter. Hugo joined West Ham from Southampton where he made the decision to come out as gay whilst working within football. The area of player care is a relatively new one in football but worth reading up on to get an idea of why they are so important. As well as joining us in a meeting between POI and the club to discuss the campaign, Hugo appeared on Sky Sports ‘The Debate’ where he spoke openly and honestly about Rainbow Laces. The audio is available as a podcast and I would recommend you check it out to hear a true voice from the club.

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Hugo Schekter on ‘The Debate’ with out referee Ryan Atkin and Liam Rosenior.

So often with LGBT groups – including Pride Of Irons – you see the same faces who run those groups speaking out on behalf of their members. This year we were so fortunate that our members volunteered their time and put themselves out there to bravely talk about their experiences.

Pride Of Irons member Natasha spoke to the Premier League about her experience as a West Ham fan and a Trans Woman. Her video was released on the Premier League website and tweeted out to their 18,000,000 followers on Twitter.

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“As soon as that whistle goes you’ve got 60,000 people praying and hoping for one thing, and that is that we score. That is an immensely strong feeling. You almost feel like a family and I absolutely love that feeling.”

Thank you so much to Natasha for being a voice for so many others. Please take a moment to watch Natasha’s video and comment and retweet it too.

Back to West Ham and West Ham Captain and out gay woman, Gilly Flaherty spoke frankly about being an out player and what it was like growing up knowing you’re different.

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“The main thing is that I’m no different, and you’re no different, whether you are with a boy or a girl. I am still me, and my personality hasn’t changed.”

Check out here video here and send her some love on Instagram.

There’s more to come from the campaign but we’ll leave you to digest this post first. More positive news and info to come in the next post, but for now; COYI!

You Can’t See Us Holding Hands

You Can’t See Us Holding Hands

On Friday night West Ham travelled away to Brighton and Hove Albion where we suffered a dejecting 1-0 defeat. Despite playing the better football and having plenty of chances to equalise, we just couldn’t break through their 11 men and so the Hammers’ travelling faithful all returned home disappointed. None so much as the members of Pride Of Irons.

If you’re from abroad or just not particularly familiar with Brighton, it’s a town on the South Coast of England with a traditionally large population of LGBT people. Because of this, the Brighton and Hove Albion football team and their fans have, for some time, been targeted by other football fans with chants and songs about…well…being gay. Chants such as “We can see you holding hands” and “Does your boyfriend know you’re here?” are on the softer end of the spectrum, but BHA have heard worse over the years.

During Friday’s match, those two chants made an appearance. Not really a surprise. Last season a few lads behind us tried to get one of the chants going. A few of us turned around, politely asked them to leave it out and it was over. Done. No aggro, no arguing and we carried on watching the game. Not that the game was particularly enjoyable (what is it about that team? Third loss on the bounce now!). This time though, it was different. It wasn’t a small group of lads. We were surrounded by a wall of noise both in front and behind us. From where we were standing, it felt like the whole away end was joining in.

Now despite what some might think looking at some of the comments on social media, our precious snowflake hearts didn’t melt. We didn’t run out crying or contact the stewards to grass anyone up. We looked at each other, rolled our eyes and shook our heads. Sure it was disappointing, but as LGBT people, we’ve ALL dealt with much worse. At that particular moment I was most concerned about the young lad who was with us. He’s approaching ten and as you can imagine is football mad. He told me on Friday that Issa Diop is his favourite defender because he’s a defender at school and Diop is his inspiration. He’s like all kids at that age who are mad about football and having the opportunity to go to a Friday night game at that age and stay up late was almost too much excitement to take. The reason I was concerned about him though is he has two Dads. Did he know what the chants meant? Was he okay? Looking at his expression I could tell he’d heard and he understood, but importantly he was okay. You see, kids from LGBT families aren’t sensitive snowflakes either.

After the match, one of our committee, Dave, Tweeted from our account:

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 19.27.26That’s it. Disappointing. No one claimed to be the victim of a hate crime or anything extreme. Just the general feeling amongst our group. Whilst I know there are plenty of people out there just gagging to tell me exactly how I should feel about the chants – and many have – or to tell me that it’s “just banter”, let’s be clear; calling someone gay or insinuating that they are as a form of insult isn’t “just banter”. The intention is to insult and by using us as the insult, we’re made to feel we’re less than. If you’re reading this and you disagree, then have the courage of your convictions and go speak to a gay friend or family member. Tell them you think the song is banter and then convince them. After all, if it’s not a problem they won’t have an issue with it, right? Don’t have any gay friends to talk to about it? Maybe that’s something to think about.

What followed the tweet was something that Dave (ironically a straight guy) hadn’t anticipated. From the backlash, anyone would think we’d been the ones chanting something about a marginalised group.

I’ve omitted the usernames from the below as I’ve got no interest in digging anyone out or trying to stir trouble for them. I simply want to highlight the kind of stuff we’ve received.

“Are we allowed to still sing come on you irons? Making a mountain out of a molehill as it was aimed at 1 fan in particular who was attempting to give it to us.”

“Disappointing” is making a mountain out of a molehill? And I thought we were supposed to be the dramatic ones.

“I think it’s about time we had a group for overweight, middle aged, white, male fans, we are totally unrepresented & I’d like something to be offended by. Or perhaps I’ll just stop being stupid ”

Ah yes, the truly marginalised community.

“I’m only 27 and since I’ve left school you can no longer say “you’ve dropped your gay card”, “ is that your best mate or your boyfriend”. Actually you better not call yourself “pride of Irons” because Irons is slang for poofs. To think Jesus died for this fucking generation..”

I’m sure the Messiah would be horrified to find out that he gave his life and yet poor 27 year olds can’t go around mocking gay people.

“Do you know what, I find people that wear make up offensive, shall we ban all women from wearing make up because it offends me? Actually whilst we are at it there’s plenty of words I’d like banned too, “on point”, “vibes”, and that’s just for starters.”

Yeah, fair point. The two things are totally comparable.

“I do believe that political & rights activists groups should be kept out of football! Why does sexuality have to be constantly defined? You’re just humans attracted to other humans. You’re not special or hated… that taboo is long gone!”

Keep an eye out for our party manifesto.

“I think you’re right there mate. It was a molehill turned into a mountain by a group of our own fans, @PrideOfIrons – I’d say this group will cause trouble for all our chants as time goes on, such is the overly PC culture of such organisations.”

Yeah. We’re going after Bubbles next.

Honestly though. It’s a little ironic that we’re the snowflakes for being disappointed by a chant that makes us out to be less than, yet overreacting to our disappointment is totally reasonable.

I’ve met so many West Ham fans over the years and none have ever had an issue with me being gay. Not to my face anyway. I don’t think our fans are bigots and I’m confident the vast majority of those singing the chants aren’t homophobic. They probably had a few beers and got swept up in the moment. And that’s why we’re disappointed. Because we know what it means to be West Ham. We know that’s not what our club is about. “West Ham Family” remember? Let’s just hope next time we face Brighton, the rest of the family remember us.

It’s strange. We’re often told that we shouldn’t bring sexuality into football. Groups like Pride Of Irons are regularly criticised for speaking out and told we’d be respected and left alone if we’re quiet and don’t draw attention to ourselves. Yet when LGBT people are dragged into football’s spotlight through stuff like this, we’re still the villains. We literally can’t win. I guess the ultimate irony of this whole episode is that with the current attitudes towards us in football, you really can’t see us holding hands. Most of us wouldn’t dare.

 

~ Jim Dolan, Co-Chair