February has rolled around once again and for many people their minds might be focused on Pancake Day or forgetting whether it’s a leap year or not. My mind comes around to LGBTQ+ history month. 

I thought, given that history month is a time of reflection, having a brief look into the past, present and future of LGBTQ+ history and inclusion in sports seems to be one way to approach my own reflection as a queer person who loves sport and has struggled with access and inclusion over the years. 

Honestly, this is a massive topic to tackle and there’s a million different approaches and ways I could have written this, but I wanted to pull out a handful of key moments & thoughts on what I think have been important parts of LGBTQ+ history in sport. Particularly focusing on visibility and inclusion. And, yes. There’s a couple on here related to Women’s football. They do say “write what you know”! 

But before jumping into that I thought I’d give an insight into what LGBTQ+ history month actually is and the purpose of observing it.

Why do we have a LGBTQ+ History Month?

It’s quite often there’s confusion over the reason LGBTQ+ History Month exists, particularly with the more recognised Pride Month celebrations. 

So, to break it down, it originally started in the 1990s in America. LGBTQ+ History Month exists to reflect on the history and achievements of the LGBTQ+ community. The month-long observance occurs internationally, with the exact month of observance changing from country to country. When adopted by the UK, February was the selected month of observance to coincide with one of the most key moments in modern LGBTQ+ history. The beginning of repealing Section 28. A law amendment in which the promotion of homosexuality was outright banned from 1988 to July 2003. 

The best way to explain the difference from Pride Month (celebrated in June in the UK), is that Pride Month came to be in order to remember the stonewall riots, celebrate the activism and the strength of the LGBTQ+ community coming together, and continue fighting for our rights in a loud and proud way. 

Every person can have their own interpretation and understanding to be honest, but this is a generic look at what many think of the two different events. 

Now that we’ve covered the all important context, let’s jump into some of personal key moments in LGBTQ+ history I’m choosing to reflect on this year. 


PAST – Lily Parr

Lily Parr is the kind of inspirational figure my mind jumps to when thinking about how someone could be unapologetically themselves and play a massive role in the original popularity of women’s football. More on Lily Parr in a second I swear, but to give a bit more context to this story I need to brief you in on the early days of women’s football in the UK…

If you didn’t already know, women’s football was popular and thriving in the early 20th century prior to (and during) the First World War. A team known as the Dick, Kerr Ladies are cemented in UK women’s football history for being a part of some of the first international games amongst women’s teams, and for being one of the teams where the world record attendance for a women’s game was set and held for decades. The attendance was estimated at 46,000 on that boxing day match and Lily Parr was there.

Parr scored upwards of 950+ goals over a 30 year career of playing football and is recognised as one of the biggest and most talented strikers of her time and was unapologetically gay. The reason women’s football took a hard hit to its visibility is due to the FA ban on women playing in or with any FA associated grounds or clubs. But it didn’t stop Dick, Kerr Ladies and it certainly didn’t stop Parr. Open about being in a relationship with her long-term partner Mary, Parr continued playing as much as possible and is now cemented as one of the pioneers of women’s football. 

Being LGBTQ+ and an athlete is not necessarily about all the activism. Sometimes, it’s just enough to see that this isn’t new, and you’re not the only one. Knowing that even decades before I was born LGBTQ+ individuals have always had a place in sports and football in particular is comforting. And remembering Parr (there’s so much more to her story!) is a great way to kick off, reminding not just ourselves, but teaching others that sport is for everyone. 

PAST – Tom Daley Wins A Gold Medal

When it comes to sports in the UK and the visibility of LGBTQ+ athletes in more recent history, Tom Daley coming out is a standout memory for me recognising that someone can do sports and be gay at the same time.

I was 19 when Tom Daley came out in 2013. The same time I was struggling with coming to terms with my own sexuality and queerness and I’ve grown up knowing him as a standout LGBTQ+ athlete who has thrived in his career, built a family with his husband, and is constantly venturing onto new things. But, to be honest, it’s not Tom’s coming out that is what sticks most with me.

2021. Summer Olympics. Tokyo. I woke up early to watch the Men’s 10M synchronised diving. I’d watched Tom and his diving partner Matty Lee throughout the rounds. In fact, the whole nation has watched Daley grow up as an athlete since his first Olympics at Beijing 2008. Every four years, we all hoped for the Gold at Beijing, at London, at Rio. But finally at Tokyo, he did it. As a result, myself and others get to remember how an openly queer man competed and succeeded to the highest level possible! He wasn’t the first, and now he definitely won’t be the last. But it’s certainly a top moment I like to think back on.

PRESENT – Rainbow Laces Campaign

Kicked off in 2013 by Stonewall, every October the Rainbow Laces campaign has been improving visibility and awareness of LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports across all levels from grassroots to pros.

Regardless of the sport, or of the level, the rainbow laces (which can be purchased from Stonewall by anyone) are symbolic of inclusion and acceptance in the ongoing battle to make sport for everyone.

The campaign has now expanded to other symbols that can be shown in support of LGBTQ+ inclusion, including a rainbow armband. Even England Women’s Captain Leah Williamson and men’s Captain Harry Kane have both worn the rainbow captain’s armband in major international tournaments.

PRESENT – Women’s Football

Now admittedly, this one isn’t just specific to the UK but all of international women’s football. There is absolutely no doubt that history is constantly in the making and that we might be moving into a time when LGBTQ+ inclusion and acceptance of openly LGBTQ+ football players in the men’s game is progressing. This comes after decades of struggle for inclusion, especially at the pro level.

Just earlier this year Jake Daniels, a forward for Blackpool, came out as gay which marks him as the first active men’s footballer to do so in the UK since Justin Fashanu in 1990. It was a landmark for LGBTQ+ history in men’s football, whereas looking at the women’s side of the game LGBTQ+ visibility acceptance at the pro level is vastly different.

There have been more than 10+ LGBTQ+ women’s footballers who have played internationally for England just in the last 20 years. At least 7 of them were a part of the winning England squad at the Euros 2022 last summer. Including Golden Boot and Player of the Tournament winner Beth Mead (Arsenal), who publicly spoke about her relationship with Arsenal teammate Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands) following the Euros. Not only the visibility but also the success of openly gay and LGBTQ+ players in women’s football gives hope for even more positive change across the whole of football.

FUTURE – Bettering Trans Inclusion

Right now, the progression LGBTQ+ inclusion is being set back by reviews on the inclusion of Trans athletes across the UK at pro, semi-pro and grassroots levels alike.

One of these reviews in the sport of rugby has led to an outright ban of Transwomen participating in the Women’s side of the sport at any level, whereas Transmen can continue to play so long as risk assessments are done. Unfortunately, we aren’t seeing this just in rugby, but reviews and decisions about participation in sports for trans people have been regressing.

Fortunately, for the future, it’s inspiring to see clubs, individuals and fans on all levels reach out to improve inclusion for Trans people. Too often things like these take a lot of fighting, but like I see with a lot of grassroots clubs and even players on all levels in Women’s rugby, they’re going to continue to fight hard for Trans inclusion in sports. This is going to be at the forefront of LGBTQ+ history in the very near future as awareness grows.

Grassroots Sports & Building Inclusive Spaces

From my perspective, access to grassroots sports is how inclusion and accessibility has improved for many marginalised communities, not just LGBTQ+. I also think it’s safe to say that grassroots sport is going to continue to play a large role in LGBTQ+ history in sports, as it’s at this community level where inclusion flourishes the most and benefits LGBTQ+ people on both individual and group levels.

Whether it be building a team for a kickabout and competing in Trans inclusive football leagues that are set up outside the scope of the FA (like Queer Space FC), or starting the first ever local LGBTQ+ inclusive rugby club in your area like the Lincolnshire Lancers RFC have done. There’s a lot of work to be done and more and more history to be made, but without the existence of LGBTQ+ people building grassroots clubs across the country we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have. Many cities and even towns have LGBTQ+ inclusive spaces for one sport or another, but there’s a lot of gaps to fill and far more progress to be made and it starts from the bottom!

So, for any LGBTQ+ people looking to jump back into sport or find some friends in the community, pridesports.org.uk is a great place to start! If not, hit the Gram, Twitter or Facebook and often you can find clubs by searching keywords and tags!

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