Pride 2020 takes place throughout the month of June and serves as a celebration of LGBT+ life. It is also a platform to continue the fight for equality and tackle prejudice.
We spoke to Jon Holmes, the lead of Sports Media LGBT+, about Pride and the work that he does to help sport become more inclusive.
What is Pride Month and why do people celebrate it?
‘Most of all, I think of Pride as a state of mind - an opportunity for each of us to think about living and loving freely, and how we can help others find that freedom when we come together as a collective. It’s a time to mark the civil rights and human rights that have been won for LGBT+ people, such as those stemming from the Stonewall Riots in 1969 - that’s the celebration part of it - but also to protest against the many injustices and discrimination that LGBT+ people still experience worldwide. Dedicating a month to Pride is really just about giving everyone the time and space to explore all of this in their way, whether that means putting on an event or festival (and this year, almost everything is happening online), supporting an LGBT+ good cause, or recognising where you are on your own journey. Importantly, you don’t have to be LGBT+ yourself to get involved and being a vocal, visible ally is an empowering way to contribute.’
What is the function of Sports Media LGBT+ and how will the organisation be engaging in Pride Month?
‘Our mission is to help to create a community of LGBT+ people and allies in sport, and we seek to do this by harnessing the power of media to share stories as widely as possible. We began life in 2017 as an industry network group - I was increasingly writing about themes of LGBT+ inclusion for Sky Sports, where I co-ordinate content in support of Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, and I wanted to connect with other journalists, broadcasters and media officers doing similar work. We quickly built an online presence and began working in partnerships with groups and individuals to amplify their voices. We’ve now got significant consultancy experience too, having helped to unlock the media and provide visibility for many people who had previously felt overlooked.
For Pride Month, we’re producing a new series on our website and social channels called ‘My Pride In Sport’, featuring LGBT+ athletes and personalities who are making change. We’re also delivering a webinar on ‘Communicating LGBT+ Inclusion’ for Pride Sports UK and the Sport and Recreation Alliance based around our free-to-download ‘Rainbow Ready’ media resources which we published earlier this year. We have an open invitation for anyone to get in touch and discuss content, whether that’s creating it, promoting what’s already been produced, or connecting them with a larger publisher. At this time, I think it’s important to address the fact that we rarely hear from people in sport who are black and LGBT+ so we’re reaching out this month to ask if we can help improve that situation.’
What is your role at Sports Media LGBT+ and what does this involve?
‘The group is my passion but also an extension of the work I’ve been able to pursue at Sky Sports - we’re a member of a coalition of businesses and brands called TeamPride that bring the Rainbow Laces message to a wide audience. I founded the group three years ago and I’m assisted by fellow network members to produce content and work on projects together. Day to day, it’s producing digital content, running the social channels, and responding to enquiries. Bigger projects have included the ‘Rainbow Ready’ resources I mentioned earlier, workshops where we deliver that guidance, and we also put on an annual event in October titled #AuthenticMe - previously we’ve held these events at the BBC and at Twitter. We ask speakers to talk about their experiences of being LGBT+ in sport, from elite to grassroots, and how being their authentic self has helped to boost their performance. Everyone’s story is unique and it’s fascinating to hear and discuss the various ways that sport plays a part in that. Organising those events can be a lot of work but it’s hugely satisfying too; the feedback makes it thoroughly worthwhile.’
How does Sports Media LGBT+ help other sports organisations become more inclusive?
‘Inclusion should be a top priority for all sports organisations - attracting participants and customers, retaining them, making them feel truly welcome and valued, and flourishing through that shared enjoyment and appetite for success. However, talking about this isn’t always simple, and with LGBT+ inclusion in particular, we know many people are worried about saying or writing the wrong thing, and potentially getting criticised for that, either internally or more publicly. We’re here to allay any fears and build confidence by offering a strategy based on best practice that appreciates both the influential role that sport plays in society and the power of media. Whether you’re a senior leader at an NGB, a social media manager, a newspaper editor, an agent, or someone else in a sports role who is communicating in the public space, we’re here to listen, offer advice, and provide introductions so that your inclusion work becomes something you’re proud to talk about in public - whatever stage of the journey you’re at. ‘
What progress, if any, has been made towards inclusion and equality in football in recent years?
‘There have been significant steps forward. At the top level, the FA’s ‘In Pursuit of Progress’ plan sends out a clear message that supporting LGBT+ people through football should be a goal for all. The FA, the Premier League, and the EFL have also been strong supporters of Rainbow Laces and along with the rise in LGBT+ fans groups, that’s provided incredible visibility which is seen around the world, in large part through broadcast and social media. However, there are still many obstacles to progress - homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language and behaviour persists in many areas of football and is incredibly damaging to LGBT+ people, particularly if they’re struggling to find their place in sport. If someone doesn’t feel accepted, they’ll underperform or even give up.’
How important is education in addressing discrimination including homophobia?
‘It’s critical, and actually we’re still towards the beginning of putting those educational structures in place. This September, LGBT-inclusive relationships and sex education (RSE) becomes statutory in schools, which is going to benefit future generations of young Britons, their parents, and wider families. Racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination often stem from misunderstanding or creep in where there are knowledge gaps. Football in itself is an incredible tool for education on this – the nature of teamwork, what it means to be a supporter, how an assist helps someone reach their goal… it’s all symbolism that means a great deal to LGBT+ people and is simple to communicate to all age groups.’
What’s been your proudest moment working in this area?
‘We’ve had a few young sports journalists who have connected with us and through being part of something bigger, they’ve grown in confidence and gone on to write or speak about being LGBT+ as part of their work for the first time. They’ve benefitted both professionally and personally, so that’s been amazing to witness. There are also many stories I’ve been fortunate to get the chance to tell. One of the most memorable happened in 2018, when a football referee called Raymond Mashamba came to London from Zimbabwe for an international CONIFA tournament and ended up claiming asylum, having been outed publicly as gay in a national newspaper back home while officiating here. He needed to stay in the UK because it simply wasn’t safe for him to return. I was able to connect Raymond with a really welcoming LGBT+-inclusive club called London Titans FC, and later, with his permission, wrote his story. Subsequently, he won his claim at the first hearing which is very rare for LGBT+ asylum seekers. It’s not often in sports journalism that you can make that sort of contribution to someone’s life, so it’s a moment that stands out for me.’
To find out more about the work of Sports Media LGBT+, visit their website or follow them on Twitter here.