On the 8th of December 2019, my best friend (who, like me, is LGBT+) and I went to see Brighton & Hove Albion versus Wolverhampton Wanderers, in Brighton. Not until arriving, we found out it was the weekend of the annual Rainbow Laces campaign, an annual campaign supported by many of the major sporting corporations to promote LGBT+ inclusion – players wearing rainbow laces on their boots, captains fashioning a rainbow armband, and the obligatory, predictable ruffling of an enormous rainbow flag, pre-game. It felt fitting, given that we were in Brighton.
It was a pulsating game that ended 2-2. However, ironically, it was marred by homophobic abuse.
These days, you read about prejudice behaviour in sports. You may even attend games where it happens, and even hear it first-hand. I did, and it was shocking. And then my mind sobered, to the reality of the situation. And then, I felt unwelcome.
It’s strange to feel as I – we – as LGBT+ people, should let the few “ruin the party”. As an Indian gay man brought up within a pseudo Indian / East African culture, you would think after coming out to my family, I would be hardy to what many football fans still think is “banter”.
The truth is, playing football was my escape. It has and will always be the game that I love to talk about, follow (my beloved Spurs) and play.
I have played for many teams, when I was at school and university, but only when I joined GSK did, I feel comfortable about being open about my sexuality on the pitch. In fact, many of my fantastic colleagues I play with, I had worked with before, and knew I was gay. I wear my rainbow laces with pride, and often get asked about them by my teammates.
When I see GSK doing so much, not just in the LGBT+ space, but for other underrepresented groups including people from different ethnic backgrounds, women, and those with disabilities, it makes me feel proud to work for a company that does so much to make every GSK employee feel integrated and safe.
GSK do even more off the pitch. Gareth Thomas, retired Welsh rugby star, has come to GSK and ViiV (GSK joint venture HIV specialist company), only recently as February 2020, to talk about his battle with coming out, having HIV and breaking down the stigmas around it. We were also joined by Charlie Martin in 2019, a trans woman set to compete in the Le Mans 24 racing competition.
In my opinion, outside of GSK, to continue to make sports more inclusive, there needs to be a genuine zero-tolerance policy to any sort of prejudice, whether that be to LGBT+ people, women, people of colour and all individuals. There also needs to be better visibility of safe spaces for LGBT-friendly teams that anyone can play for and more LGBT+ role models in football who are not fearful of being outed, but able to feel that they can be themselves within football
This is a personal article and is not published on behalf of GSK
GSK is committed to fair and equal employment opportunity and inclusion of all employees regardless of race/ ethnicity/ national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion/ belief, marriage/ civil partnership status, age and / or socio-economic status.