Football can be a lifeline for trans and non-binary people. That’s why transphobia needs kicking out of the beautiful game for good

Football vs Transphobia campaign wants to kick hate out of beautiful game

The positive contributions that trans and non-binary people make to football are being highlighted by an international campaign against transphobia in the sport, timed to end on Trans Day of Visibility.

The Football v Transphobia week of action, which is now in its third year, wants to show football players and fans alike how to be active allies to trans and non-binary people and support their inclusion in the beautiful game.

Trans people face many barriers to playing football, including the experience or fear of being excluded for being trans. Hostile campaigning by anti-trans groups aimed at banning trans girls and women from sports only compounds these fears, and for non-binary people, there is still little provision for inclusion.

That’s why, as well as celebrating trans and non-binary people in football, the campaign is also providing resources and information to clubs so that they can work on better trans inclusion. As part of this, a social-media campaign is encouraging trans people and allies to share their stories of how the game is enriched by the presence of trans and non-binary players and fans (use #fvt2021 and #TransFootyAlly to get involved).

Lou Englefield, director of parent campaign Football v Homophobia, elaborates: “Allies are so important in creating welcoming spaces and inclusive football. Trans and non-binary people make up about 1.5 per cent of the population and they need our support.

“As a lesbian, I have not always felt welcomed in football. It’s time for me to stand up for my trans colleagues and friends in the game.”

While football is still affected by the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Football v Transphobia week of action is taking place online. PinkNews spoke to campaign lead Natalie Washington about trans inclusion, non-binary people in sport and the benefits of playing football to young trans people.

PinkNews: Hi Natalie! Thank you for speaking with us. To begin with, could you share some of the clubs that have done really good work on trans inclusion that we can celebrate?

Natalie: At a grassroots level, clubs like Charlton Invicta and other clubs in the Gay Football Supporters Network and London Unity leagues have been doing good work in a league which allows all genders. Goal Diggers are a club for women and non-binary people who have been really positive about trans inclusion.

At a professional level, there are lots of LGBTQ+ supporters groups who have been very vocal during the week of action on trans inclusion – Proud Baggies (West Brom), United with Pride (Newcastle United) and Villa & Proud (Aston Villa) have been very active already this week, and are far from the only ones doing good work here, and Sheffield United and Leicester City have shared trans stories from their official club accounts.

I have a podcast coming out this weekend with some players from Charlton Invicta talking, among other things, about what the club has done to help them feel included.

What are the options for non-binary people who want to play football?

Options for non-binary people to participate in competitive football are not yet good enough.

At an adult competitive level, most football is still labelled as men’s or women’s. There are some LGBTQ+ specific leagues such as the GFSN and LUL who specifically include all genders, and teams can be mixed.

Up to the age of 18, football can also be mixed, although clubs and leagues often set their teams up as boys and girls teams – there is no actual restriction on who can play for them at an FA level.

Often, adult non-binary people are still forced to choose one team or another and fulfil the criteria to play. Football v Transphobia campaigns for better infrastructure and facilities to include non-binary people, and there is much that clubs can still do here around changing room provision and signage, for example.

What are the benefits of playing football for trans, including non-binary, people?

We see really massive benefits for trans and non-binary people in being involved in football or sport more generally. As a team sport with a significant supporter following, football is wonderful for tackling social isolation whether you’re playing or not.

I’ve spoken to so many trans and non-binary people this week who have found friends through the game. Also, physical activity is known to have a positive impact on mental health, which a lot of trans and non-binary people struggle with, particularly at the moment, and this is without even mentioning the physical benefits of exercise!

One of the real joys of the week of action is hearing from trans and non-binary people who have been inspired to get back into the game they love, or have been inspired to try it for the first time. I spoke with a trans woman earlier in the week who has managed to find a club for the first time in years and was overjoyed – this can be really life-enriching and even life-changing for a demographic which experiences such marginalisation.

How important is it for young trans people to be able to play football?

It’s so important for young trans people to be able to play the game – football is one of the most widely played sports in the country, and is a major focal point for many communities. Isolating young trans people from that often means marginalising them further from communities they already experience barriers to full participation in.

It’s almost a rite of passage for many young people to join a football club or to have a kick-around in the park, or to attend a game. Being able to access sport and physical activity is critical in allowing young people to grow and develop. Full inclusion means everyone is able to be their full selves in everything that they do.

In the years you’ve been running this campaign, what have you found to be the most effective ways of countering transphobia in football?

We’re now in our third year, and I’ve found that one of the most effective strategies for countering transphobia is just to talk openly (and create space for other trans and non-binary people to talk openly) about what transphobia actually is, and how we experience it. So many people in the game don’t even realise what it looks like, and may participate in transphobia without thinking.

We try to educate and to talk about the real human effects of transphobic language and bullying, and the barriers and challenges that we face in getting involved in the game. Love of football is an international language, and being involved in the game often means we can reach people in ways we’d never get opportunity to otherwise. When people realise their teammate or the person who sits next to them in the stands is trans and/or non-binary, it can really change perceptions.