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640 major employers on the gay equality charity Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme have been joined by the first football club to sign up to the scheme: Leeds United.
The programme promotes and develops good practise for organisations who want to create gay-friendly environments and be supportive of gay staff and volunteers.
As part of the scheme, the club’s stewards will be trained to tackle any homophobic abuse or chanting.
Leeds’ managing director David Haigh said, “This is very important to us because Leeds United is an all-inclusive football club where everybody is welcome and can feel a part of. Diversity is an important issue for sport in general, and by taking the lead on this, we are not only hoping to make a positive impact on our own club, but on football as a whole, and we hope other clubs will follow.”
Leeds have already featured Stonewall’s ‘Some People Are Gay. Get Over It!’ campaign in the matchday programme, and joining the Stonewall scheme is not the first time Leeds has been proactive about equality in football. The movement against racism at the end of the eighties, led by fanzines like Marching Altogether that took pitches on Lowfields Road away from sellers of National Front magazines, was strengthened by the club’s appointment of Ces Podd to their Football in the Community programme in October 1988 – the same month as Howard Wilkinson was appointed to transform the team – who took Leeds United into communities that had previously been cut off from Elland Road.
United were also the focus of attention earlier this year when in a whirlwind few weeks Robbie Rogers left the club, retired from the game, announced that he was gay and then came back into football at LA Galaxy. In the blog post in which he announced his sexuality, Rogers wrote: “I’m a soccer player, I’m Christian, and I’m gay. Those are things that people might say wouldn’t go well together”; but the reaction from sporting and LGBT communities convinced him to come out of retirement. “I have a platform and a voice to be a role model,” he told USA Today. “How much of a coward was I to not step up to the plate?”
Leeds United will now be expected to step up to the plate themselves, and act as a role model club on equality issues. “By joining the Diversity Champions programme Leeds United recognises that people perform better when they can be themselves, whether on or off the pitch,” said Laura Doughty, Stonewall Deputy Chief Executive. “They are showing that they are a forward thinking 21st century employer who wants to recruit, develop and support the very best staff. We hope other clubs will follow Leeds United’s lead and take steps to make sure they create an environment where all their staff can thrive and fans can fully enjoy matches.”
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