Comment: FA appointing player who said gays are ‘detestable’ shows we have a long road to equality

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The newly elected Chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, Ed Fordham, writes for on how the appointment of Michael Johnson as the Football Association’s new equality adviser – despite previously making homophobic comments – shows the path to full LGBT equality has a long way to travel.

2013 equal marriage achieved – there we can all relax, equality has been delivered.

Well, maybe not. For a start the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act only covers England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland are still to follow – at very different speeds), and even then it wasn’t ‘equal marriage’ it was ‘same-sex marriage’ (there remains serious issues for transgender people). And we still don’t have real equality, the most glaring example being that opposite sex couples can’t have a civil partnership.

But on the wider stage, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are still rife and nowhere is that more obvious than in sport. The biggest sporting event this year is the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, which reminds us that many of our Commonwealth partners have some of the worst laws and attitudes towards sexuality and gender identity.

Those of us working for equality have to realise that if society is going to become more tolerant and accepting, then quite a few people are going to have to change their mind and, in a manner of speaking, ‘repent’.

But in the world of sport here at home, our largest governing body, the Football Association, has been slow in recognising that there is a problem.  Every year with football’s macho culture, there is rampant transphobia and homophobia both on and off the field. This results in many LGBT people being pushed away from the game. Indeed my own experience in school sport was poor and speaking to gay contemporaries, we have shared negative memories of the culture that existed, often exacerbated by PE staff.

So my plea is for sporting authorities to lead the way in opening up sport – especially professional sport – to the whole of society and to actively and pro-actively recognise, challenge and stamp out transphobia, biphobia and homophobia.

The Football Association’s newly created Inclusion Advisory Board is a welcome step – but the FA must ensure that all protected characteristics are genuinely treated equally – gender, race, sexuality, disability – all!  So far the FA has made some good gestures, but the recent publicity surrounding Michael Johnson’s appointment indicates that they failed the ‘sniff’ test. It may well be that Johnson has repented on the unsavoury views he expressed two years ago about homosexuality, but the FA’s failure to identify this issue in appointing him makes me question whether they actually recognise the problem they have.

Much the same issues face the faith bodies within the UK (with the notable exceptions of the Unitarians, Quakers and Reform and Liberal Jews) – but they have a greater dilemma and that is of denial and hypocrisy. To quote a good religious mentor of mine “I am delighted that you decided to ignore the teachings of your church and to embrace the love of the Lord instead.” Let this year be seen a year of engagement, where all faiths enable support and positive understanding for members of the LGBT community within their own congregations.

Whilst some things in the UK still require attention, a much bigger issue is that of discrimination at an international level and the growing institutional homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Russia and Uganda, to cite but two.

With these three issues, sport, religion and international recognition alone – 2014 looks to be very busy indeed for those of us promoting LGBT equality.

Ed Fordham is the newly elected Chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats