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Liverpool Participated In The Rainbow Laces Campaign. Here’s Why It’s Still Necessary

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We can’t keep pretending bigotry is something that happens somewhere else

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Liverpool v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

This week and next, English football will be partnering once again with Stonewall UK for the now-annual Rainbow Laces campaign. Players, technical staff, and referees from the Premier League and English Football League, along with the England Women’s team, will be wearing rainbow boot laces and other rainbow accouterments to show support for LGBT people in football.

Liverpool participated on Saturday during their home match with Chelsea. Jordan Henderson wore a rainbow captain’s armband, Jurgen Klopp wore rainbow laces with his shoes, the corner flags were rainbow-colored, and there was a special article placed in the matchday programme.

There are some legitimate criticisms over the effectiveness of the campaign. As this op-ed in The Telegraph notes, wearing the laces is not compulsory. And indeed, not one player in Friday night’s clash between West Ham and Leicester wore them. While the laces are no doubt raising awareness of the Stonewall campaign and raising money for a worthy organization, their effectiveness in changing the culture in English football to be more accepting of queer people in the sport is somewhat hazy.

Yet regardless of the efficacy of the Rainbow Laces campaign, it’s clear that work remains to make football more inclusive. Just focusing on Liverpool, there are too many Reds fans who believe that LGBT supporters— like me— do not belong here. Beyond that, there are also too many liberal-minded or self-identifying progressive fans who believe that homophobia is largely gone, and that apart from a few loud hold-outs English football is already a welcome space for LGBT people. There are also a number who believe that, by participating in this campaign and making their support for LGBT fans explicit, the club is just needlessly injecting “politics” where it doesn’t belong and alienating fans who might not agree.

I would argue that it’s important to highlight just how much opposition remains to even the blandest, most heavily focus-group-tested inclusion campaigns. That there is still a lot of bristling at the mere presence of people like me in and around the club, and that any attempt to make us feel nominally welcome is met with wailing and gnashing of teeth. Anyone who really cares about inclusion and diversity must have a clear-eyed assessment of how much work is required.

To illustrate this point, here are some responses to the aforementioned embedded tweet from the official Liverpool FC Twitter account showing Klopp’s be-rainbowed shoes. Content warning for homophobia, transphobia, and, because people are the absolute fucking worst, Islamophobia.

This is all from the replies to one post on Twitter. A similar post by the club on Facebook was even more of a garbage fire. And of course, this is all just Liverpool fans. You’ll find similar— or worse— reactions from fans of other clubs, as well as England supporters.

Thank you for your time. YNWA.