Socialist Alternative

Player Jake Daniels comes out: Drive homophobia out of football!

Earlier this week Blackpool striker Jake Daniels became the first active British male professional footballer to come out as gay. In doing so he became the first male footballer in this country to come out publicly since Justin Fashanu 32 years ago. Fashanu, as a result, was tragically driven to suicide after years of homophobic abuse from fans, the media and managers. It is now rightly hoped that Daniels’ announcement will instead encourage others from within the game who have been hesitant to do the same.

On coming out, Daniels said: “Now is the right time to do it. I feel like I am ready to tell people my story. I want people to know the real me. I have been thinking for a long time about how I want to do it, when I want to do it. I know now is the time. I am ready to be myself, be free and be confident with it all.”

However, he has also said that, “The subject of being gay, or bi or queer in men’s football is still a taboo. I think it comes down to how a lot of footballers want to be known for their masculinity. And people see being gay as being weak, something you can be picked on for on the football field.” These attitudes are sadly still prevalent in football, as seen in a 2019 survey conducted by the bookmaker, Paddy Power. Although 80 per cent of fans said they would be uncomfortable hearing homophobic abuse at a match, the survey found, only 30 per cent said that they would feel comfortable seeing two men kissing during a game.

Bigotry in society

As socialists, we understand that these homophobic views and discrimination more generally in football are not divorced from that which exists in wider society. Indeed, the ills of football reflect society, as can be seen in the growing instances of racist and sexist abuse targeted at players and pundits on social media platforms. Last season, for example, former England international, Karen Carney, was forced to delete her Twitter account after remarks she made in her role as a TV pundit about Leeds United were mocked by the club’s official account and led to waves of sexist abuse. Furthermore, racism has been a centuries-old disease in Britain and particularly in football; in the 70s and 80s the game became synonymous with racism and ‘hooligan culture’.

It is true to say, however, that men’s football has lagged behind other sports as a game in which LGBTO+ people can be open and comfortable about their sexuality. This is in stark contrast to the women’s game. For example: according to FIFA, more than 40 LGBTQ+ players took part in the 2019 women’s World Cup in France. And this is the real significance of Daniels’ openness and willingness to talk about his sexuality. His courage will speak to other footballers but will also have resonance in wider society.

There has been a huge amount of support for Daniels on social media, from former and current players, such as Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and the current England captain, Harry Kane. Football clubs across the country, together with the governing bodies, have also expressed their support for Daniels. Last year, in response to the growing racist abuse on social media, Football League clubs led a four day boycott of social media. Whilst moves such as these are positive, as is the widespread support for Daniels, football clubs must go beyond activity on social media. We should now organise to put maximum pressure on our clubs to educate fans on the nature and effects of all forms of discrimination on individuals and wider society. 

Reclaim our game!

This winter, the same football authorities and personalities that have praised Daniels, will be travelling to Qatar to take part in the World Cup. Homosexuality is banned in Qatar and punishments for same-sex acts range from flogging to lengthy prison terms and execution. The world’s only other openly gay professional footballer, Australian Josh Carvallo, said that he would be “scared” to play in Qatar this winter. Meanwhile, the matches will be played in stadia built by slave migrant labour from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. More than 6,500 of these workers have been killed on construction sites since Qatar were awarded the tournament in 2010.

That the ‘great and the good’ of football will travel to Qatar and take part in the World Cup is indicative of the corporatisation and the pernicious effects that capitalism has had on football. The game is being run more and more in the name of profit rather than the fans and the local communities. 

Today we see owners of Premier League and Championship clubs such as Emirati royalty with poor human rights records in Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City. Recently, the super-exploitative retail tycoon Mike Ashley of Sports Direct sold Newcastle United to the Saudi Arabian government. All these owners are using their football teams not only to make massive profits but also to try to rehabilitate their public image, thoroughly discredited by decades of repression. 

Clearly, what is in order is a movement to reclaim our grounds and clubs from big business. Football in this country was born out of working class communities but has been poisoned by the pursuit of profit which has permeated into every aspect of our lives. The antidote to the ills of football and society are similar: public ownership and democratic management with the participation of workers and the community. Whether that be of an individual football club, or the commanding heights of the economy.

Resist discrimination in the game

When Josh Cavallo came out as gay last October, he received similar support and messages of solidarity that we have seen this week. However, just a few months later he was suffering homophobic abuse from the stands. 

As socialists we understand attitudes towards sexuality and gender are inherently tied to the kind of society we live in. And sadly, we should anticipate that at some point Jake Daniels will receive the same disgusting treatment from the stands. In response fans will need to get organised to fight back, not just in defence of Daniels, but to resist all forms of discrimination at all levels of the game.

Two women with placard saying 'pride is political'

Pride month: Stonewall’s real legacy & the struggle for liberation

The Stonewall riots are one of the major milestones in queer history. The Stonewall Inn was a bar in the Greenwich Village area of New York, frequented largely by the poorest members of the LGBT+ people in the area. The police had a long history of conducting violent raids on the Inn and harassing the LGBT+ clientele. On 28th June 1969, the police once again entered the Stonewall Inn, with the intent of shutting it down permanently. They began to arrest people in the bar, but met resistance. Eventually around 500 people, some of whom had not been in the bar that night, crowded around, preventing arrests and eventually forcing the police to barricade themselves in the building. A riot squad was called in and protesters clashed with police for several hours before being dispersed.

A year later on the 28th June 1970, to commemorate these events, the first ever Pride marches were held. One was held outside the Stonewall Inn, with simultaneous marches held in Chicago and Los Angeles. The next year these marches spread even further, and spread internationally, with Berlin, London, Paris and Stockholm having their first ever Pride marches in 1971.

The Stonewall Riots was a watershed moment not only in encouraging the flourishing of the gay rights movement, but also changing the nature of the movement. One of the groups to come together after the riots was the Gay Liberation Front, a group that eschewed the previous generation of activists methods of assimilationism. The GLF announced their formation with a flyer reading “You think homosexuals are revolting? You bet your ass we are”. Whilst the GLF itself was to be short lived, they marked a new era in the fight for LGBT+ rights, taking a more confrontational note, with members also openly calling for the fall of capitalism, and working with the Black Panthers and the New Left organisations of the time.

Pride is political

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and we now celebrate June as Pride month because of it, and in fact pride marches occur throughout various cities all through the summer. However, the nature of these marches has changed almost beyond recognition from those early days of defiance, where queers demanded their rights. Pride has unfortunately become a big budget production, with as many corporate logos as rainbow flags. Companies will use the rainbow flag to project a progressive sheen on their brands, whilst actively participating in the systemic oppression of LGBTQ people.

Companies are happy to jump onto progressive agendas if they feel to do so would bolster their profits. When the Mars corporation makes Skittles white for the month of June, that’s a calculated move to sell more, it’s not about their genuine commitment to ending homophobia. If these capitalist enterprises truly cared, how is it that queer people are still much more likely to be affected by unemployment and homelessness? We have seen the same thing in the last few weeks with the Black Lives Matter protests. Many companies have put out statements of support for the protests, yet the BLM movement has been going on since 2014, and the anti racist movement for much longer before that. The difference is that the huge, global protest movement has shown that there is a change in the political landscape, and so they see the possibility of losing out on profits by not taking a “stance”. The capitalist is nought but a weather vane, guided by nothing other than the winds of profit.

One counter to the profiteering from protest that is often offered up is to frequent and purchase from the businesses owned by members of the LGBT+ community, but this is in no way an actual solution. Most of these businesses are owned by a few very wealthy, conservative LGBT people who perpetuate the same systems of oppression as other capitalist businesses. Whilst they are clearly less likely to discriminate on the basis of homophobia, there still exists discrimination on other aspects of special oppression, such as on race. In addition, these businesses are also likely to pay low wages. It is hardly a boon to the queer community when employers continue to pay poverty wages. And often these same businesses continue the trends of gentrification, and price out working-class LGBT+ people. Capitalists will always look out for their own class interests first and foremost, including at the expense of their own oppressed minority groups.

Special oppression is inherent to capitalism. The capitalist class’ greatest fear is a unified working class, and as such they continually perpetuate systematic oppression in order to keep us divided. The working class as a whole has the power to transform society, due to our relationship to the means of production. Capitalists profit by exploiting our labour, but this also means that if we were to withdraw our labour, en masse, the system would collapse. This is why the capitalists have for hundreds of years stoked divisions. They tell us that the immiseration of the working class is down to immigrants, or because of feminism, or because of the LGBT+ community.

Class struggle as route to liberation

Whilst the class struggle is the route to liberation for all specially oppressed groups, steps forward can be taken under capitalism. Socialists must fight for reforms that benefit workers where possible. Over recent years the queer community has seen a number of legal reforms, such as the right to get married, protection from employment discrimination or the right for gay couples to adopt. However, clearly these reforms do not go far enough. Employment protections may have been introduced, but these are easily circumvented, as can be seen by high levels of unemployment among LGBTQ people.

Not only are legal reforms often lacking, they can also be attacked and revoked by the capitalist class. We can see this happening currently with attacks on trans rights. 2 years ago the government started a consultation about updating the Gender Recognition Act, which was initially introduced in 2005. The scope included extending gender recognition to non binary people, and removing complex legal hurdles to gender changes. Instead, the consultation was shelved for 2 years, and when it was finally brought back, Liz Truss the Minister for Women and Equalities attacked trans rights.

The discourse surrounding trans rights over this period has often resembled the same justifications used for Section 28, a law that criminalised teaching children about homosexuality. People advocating for trans rights are smeared as being child abusers or attempting to brainwash children, in a direct parallel to what occurred to lesbians and gay men during the Section 28 years. And importantly this is being used as a wedge issue. The groups supporting the attack on trans rights are often hard-right evangelical christian groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, and their end goal is to attack the rights of all LGBT+ people.

In addition to this, reporting of hate crimes has increased massively over the last decade. Just between 17/18 to 18/19 the reports of hate crime incidents of all varieties rose by 13%, but hate crimes on the basis of sexuality rose 25%, and hate crimes against transgender people rose 37%.

Legal reforms are likely to be attacked by the forces of conservatism, and even where they stay in place, they do not offer up concrete protections for oppressed minorities or significant improvements to their material conditions. The only real way to end homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism etc. is through socialist revolution. With the move away from the capitalist mode of production, we can offer up a properly democratic, equal society. Pride these days may have become more of a parade, filled with corporate logos, but that’s no indication that the fight for LGBT+ rights is over, and that fight must be linked to the class struggle.