Arsenal's clash with Newcastle on Saturday is first game of Premier League's 2021 Rainbow Laces activation; Carl Fearn, co-chair of LGBTQ+ fans group Gay Gooners, highlights importance of visibility and challenging those who persist in singing homophobic chants
Saturday 27 November 2021 12:13, UK
Saturday's Rainbow Laces fixture is a vital day of visibility for Gay Gooners, says the co-chair of Arsenal's official LGBTQ+ supporters group.
Gay Gooners was established back in February 2013 as the first group affiliated to an English club for lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.
Over 50 such groups now exist across the UK, with Gay Gooners remaining the largest with around 1,000 members.
Speaking to Sky Sports News ahead of Arsenal's home game against Newcastle at lunchtime on Saturday - the first Premier League match of this year's Rainbow Laces activation - co-chair Carl Fearn said the campaign remains hugely important to the group.
The annual global celebrations for Pride are held during June, when Arsenal are enjoying their summer break, so having an allocated time in the domestic football calendar to raise awareness about inclusion is highly valued by groups like the Gay Gooners in particular.
"We go to matches week in week out, and we love football as much as anybody else," says Fearn.
"At times, a lot of our members don't like visibility but we're out there to just say, we're here, and to please support us if there's any homophobic abuse or uncomfortable aspects of going to a game. We find people around you will generally support you."
More than two in five LGBTQ+ people think public sporting events aren't welcoming spaces for them, according to research undertaken by ICM for Stonewall, the charity that co-ordinates the Rainbow Laces campaign.
Fearn believes one factor influencing this view is chanting that perpetuates homophobic stereotypes in football. He says he has never witnessed such chants while attending games at the Emirates, but sometimes hears them when following the Gunners away from home and in Europe.
"My approach is that if I hear these chants, I will go up and talk to those singing them. I'll be polite and calm - I'll make sure it's safe - and just point out why to somebody like us in the Gay Gooners, certain chants are offensive.
"Most of the chants are making out that gay men in particular are weak."
He feels Arsenal as a club is making a concerted effort to tackle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and for this weekend's match, there is strong support too from Gay Gooners' fellow fans groups.
"Arsenal have been fantastic and this last week, they've been really busy, putting in the hours for Saturday. Without spoiling all the surprises, there's going to be some great things to see inside the stadium.
"We're gathering outside beforehand for a photo opportunity with friends from AST and REDaction, two of the largest groups - we've never had this cooperation with them before so that's very encouraging and leads into the allyship side."
Over 10 per cent of the Gay Gooners membership are allies - people who are not LGBTQ+ themselves but are active and visible in their support of those who are.
"It's a very encouraging figure and quite rightly, we encourage anyone to join," adds Fearn.
"We're probably the most diverse and inclusive supporters group in Arsenal. It doesn't matter about your sexuality, gender, religion, or ethnicity. We're together, like a microcosm of the Arsenal family."
Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride which supports Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign, back for its annual activation from November 25 to December 12. Your story of being LGBTQ+ or an ally could help to make sport everyone's game - please contact us here to discuss further.