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Rona Mackay: It’s time to blow the whistle on homophobia in sport

Last week I attended the cross-party group on sexual health and blood-borne viruses. There we heard a moving account from an HIV-positive woman who based her talk around the word “stigma”. The dictionary definition of the word is:

“a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”.

I believe that everyone in this chamber would agree that being gay should have no stigma attached to it. Sadly, despite Scotland being one of the most progressive nations in the world when it comes to LGBT+ equality, when it comes to sport, there is still much work to be done.

In sport, players face a disproportionately difficult time coming out, for a variety of reasons that are too complex to detail in a four-minute speech. Recently, Gareth Thomas, a Welsh rugby player with 100 caps, gave a grim account of his experiences of being a gay man in rugby. He believes that sport, and football in particular, must not be allowed to remain in the “dark ages” of homophobia. He says that unless homophobia in football is

“policed as stringently as racism is policed, then it will always be a problem”

…and I agree with him.

Recently, three former Rangers players started working with the excellent time for inclusive education campaign to clamp down on homophobia. Education is the key to changing attitudes and helping people to realise that it is simply not acceptable to perpetrate this inequality.

As we have heard, sporting events can also be unwelcoming and threatening environments for LGBT fans. Seventy per cent of sports fans in Scotland have witnessed anti-LGBT language or abuse in a sports setting in the last five years. Almost half of LGBT people—46 per cent—think public sporting events are not a welcoming space, and one in 10 who attended a live sporting event in the last year experienced discrimination. In 2017 that simply is not good enough.

Problems with racism, sectarianism and homophobia are taken seriously by the Scottish National Party Government, and our hate crime legislation exists to eradicate it. That is why the Scottish Government is concerned that an outright repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 might send the message that prejudice-based and threatening behaviour at football is acceptable, even when other legislation could also apply.

Stonewall Scotland supported the introduction of that bill in 2012, noting the serious impact that homophobic, biphobic and transphobic behaviour in sport has on LGBT people’s safety and on their confidence to participate in sport. Discrimination discourages participation and cultivates exclusion and a lack of diversity. Football and the sporting culture must not be left behind while the rest of society sees progress in equality. There is clearly a lot of work being done, with 13 clubs signed up to the Equality Network LGBT charter and more poised to do so, as we have heard.

Sportscotland believes that education, positive role models, embracing LGBT+ policies and promoting gay, lesbian and bisexual sports stars is the way forward, and that is the path that we should follow.

There is still a lot to be done and, until we need no longer debate this subject in the chamber, until it stops being a story, and until people wonder why someone’s sexual orientation is even being raised as an issue, we need to continue to strive for equality. It is time to blow the whistle on homophobia in sport.

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