Premier League player makes history marching in Pride: ‘A huge moment for football’
Leeds United defender Luke Ayling has become the first known active Premier League player to march in a Pride event.
Ayling, affectionately nicknmed ‘Bill’ by fans, joined former Leeds United players Jermaine Beckford and Noel Whelan at Leeds Pride on Sunday (7 August).
The trio marched with LGBTQ+ organisation Marching Out Together, which supports Leeds United’s queer fans.
Co-founder Andrew Tilly said the footballers joining the march was a brilliant example of the power of allyship.
“There will be 70,000 people on the streets who will see Jermaine and Bill and Noel with us today and they will get the same message,” he told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
Tilly added: “I still have to deal with abuse sometimes at away games, rarely at home games and you have to deal with fans that still haven’t come on the journey that most people have.
“And I feel empowered to challenge them because I can say: ‘What’s your problem… because Jermaine doesn’t have a problem, Bill doesn’t have a problem, if they are your team then go and find another team because their values aren’t your values.”
Fans commended Whelan, Ayling and Beckford for attending the event.
“Not only do you support the local community, the work has international reach,” tweeted one fan. “Have a great day. Proud to be @LUFC.”
Another applauded Leeds United for pushing for inclusivity. “Proud of @LUFC and the work they do with @MarchingoutLUFC to make our football club more inclusive,” they wrote.
“Understand that@lukeayling_8 is the first active premier league footballer to march at pride – thank you Bill for your solidarity – absolute legend.”
Whelan also took to Twitter to share photos of the day. He wrote: “Three decades of [Leeds United] players representing the club … very proud and had a fantastic day with everyone , have a great celebration.”
3 decades of @LUFC players representing the club @LeedsPride @MarchingoutLUFC today, myself @jermainebecks83 and our current player @lukeayling_8 very proud and had a fantastic day with everyone , have a great celebration ? pic.twitter.com/fJBgnyWiu3
— Noel David Whelan (@NoelDavidWhelan) August 7, 2022
Proud of @LUFC and the work they do with @MarchingoutLUFC to make our football club more inclusive ?️?
Understand that @lukeayling_8 is the first active premier league footballer to march at pride – thank you Bill for your solidarity – absolute legend ?#LeedsPride #Pride #LUFC https://t.co/sZ1Ce7z4PK— Katie Dalton (@Katie_Dalton) August 7, 2022
Happy Pride @MarchingoutLUFC Sorry I can't be there but I'd like to thank @lukeayling_8 @jermainebecks83 & @NoelDavidWhelan for joining you. Not only do you support the local community, the work has international reach. Have a great day. Proud to be @LUFC #leedspride ?️??️⚧️⚽️???— Katrina Holyoake ?? (@mskelly1990) August 7, 2022
Leeds United was a sponsor of Leeds Pride 2022, with Marching Out Together thanking the club for “taking a huge step as LGBT+ allies”.
It called the players’ attendance a “huge moment for football”.
After two years' absence we are back, and this will be a *very special* #LeedsPride.
AND we have sunshine! ??
Come and join us, from 1.00pm Cookridge St. @PeopleofLeeds
Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post, Tilly specifically thanked Leeds United CEO Angus Kinnear.
Tilly said the club is “not just doing it to tick boxes. It matters to them, big time”.
In a statement ahead of the event, Leeds United CEO Angus Kinnear said: “The Leeds United players and directors all send their best wishes to Marching Out Together and everyone associated with Leeds Pride. We do hope fans will come along and join us or watch the parade pass through the city. It is a great opportunity to show our support to the LGBT+ community.”
Though homophobia in football remains an issue, the game is slowly becoming more inclusive.
In May, Jake Daniels came out as the first openly gay active English professional male footballer since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
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