Leeds United fan group explains statement on homophobic Brighton chants as club works to address issue
and live on Freeview channel 276
Chants that came from some fans in the South Stand, aimed at their visiting counterparts, prompted committee members of LGBTQ+ supporters group Marching Out Together to release a statement on Wednesday morning.
It read: "In advance of the league fixtures away at Chelsea and home to Brighton over the past two weekends we re-stated our position on homophobic and other discriminatory chanting.
"Our members at Chelsea reported that (possibly for the first time in recent memory) they did not hear any homophobic chanting, and we hoped this might be a sign of long-overdue change. However, sadly – but not surprisingly – there were a number of reports of blatantly homophobic chanting at Elland Road during the game, and we were also contacted by a Brighton fan who had been abused on leaving the game.
"Once again, we have to remind everybody that this is not ‘banter’. It rests entirely on the assumption that there is something wrong or shameful about being gay; and it makes LGBT+ people nearby feel excluded, afraid, or even drives them from football.
"This not-banter normalises and trivialises discrimination and abuse of LGBT+ people. So one person’s ‘harmless joke’ at a match is part of a spectrum which ends up later with a gay couple being abused in a club, or someone being beaten up behind a bus-stop because they look ‘different’. It has to stop.
"We have a sense of humour too, and we are not killjoys trying to take the fun out of matchday: we are simply trying hard to educate and help fellow-fans understand that these chants don’t belong in our game or our grounds.
"We just want to be able to support our team along with everyone else, without being abused and intimidated. Is that too much to ask?"
Committee member Mish Keatman told the YEP that despite assertions to the contrary, the chants aimed at Brighton supporters were homophobic at heart.
"I've read some of the comments people have put under our [Twitter] post, that we should all just laugh if off and say it's funny," she said.
"I get it that maybe some gay people might find it funny and not be offended by it but deep down, what you're saying with the phrase that was used and the assumption that most fans are male is a gay innuendo, used in a negative way. That's the crux of it.
"We don't condone anything from fans that is negative towards the LGBTQ community, we have to call it out and we want Elland Road to feel like a safe place for people in that community."
Keatman believes that the effects of an historic portrayal of homosexuality as something to be ashamed of are still felt and carried by members of the LGBTQ+ community, which mocking chants can compound.
"When you've got that deep down feeling that something about your life is wrong, it's compounded to a certain degree by people still laughing and joking about it," she said.
"I think most people commenting are agreeing that we need to call it out but there are still people saying 'shut up, it's banter, you can't say anything these days, it's the woke community.' I don't think you can know how it feels until you're experiencing it, just because of who you happen to sleep with. We have to stamp it out and we have to keep going. It might take a while. We as a group decided this was the right thing to do, to put a statement out. Some in the community might have felt it was funny and not been offended but it's the others who will be that you want to ensure feel safe."
Some of the specific criticism aimed at Marching Out Together over this issue has previously cropped up when anti-discrimination group Kick it Out made a request for Leeds fans to sing different lyrics to a Willy Gnonto chant, due to a racial stereotype. The suggestion from some is that they should first, or instead, condemn the vile Jimmy Savile chants aimed at Whites supporters on a weekly basis.
"I hate it when I'm there and I hear it, it's not good at all," said Keatman, who began attending games as a youngster in the 80s and acknowledges how far the game has come from the racism, anti-semitism and homophobia she heard back then.
"The same applies when we're at Manchester United, their fans sing about Galatasaray and ours chant about Munich. We don't condone it at all. We stand up on behalf our LGBTQ community because that's who we are and we've made a decision to stick to that field. Where do you draw the lines? If we tap into other [issues] we'd be here for a long time."
Marching Out Together plan to speak to Leeds United chiefs over the Elland Road chants and say the support they have had shows the club are fully on board with their efforts.
"When we make them aware of issues they choose whether or not they're going to make a statement, sometimes they do and sometimes they don't but they are very supportive of us as a group," said Keatman.
"They understand what needs to be done in the stands, they've had our group go in to talk to stewards about how they can handle anything they might hear - we all appreciate it's difficult to be the ones to make decisions on what action to take, just as it's difficult for anyone to call it out, for fear of any kind of vilification.
"We've been in to talk with various groups, including some of the players. Some of our team have gone into school as well with Leeds United players to teach about LGBTQ issues and what we're doing to help and support that community. The club are fully on board with what we're trying to achieve and in agreement with it."
A Leeds United club spokesperson added: "The topic was raised at our Supporter Advisory Board meeting earlier this week, Marching Out Together are represented in the group. There is no room for homophobia in football and we will continue to work with our supporters to highlight the importance of inclusion."