Women's World Cup: A win for women, a win for the gay community

LGBTQ players have shown what the freedom to be one's authentic self can mean for an athelete. In a role reversal though, male players have it a lot harder to come out of the proverbial closet.

LGBTQIA

The USWNT's victory means a lot more than just the medal and the top honours, considering its impact on the LGBTQ movement in sport.   -  Getty Images

The US women’s soccer team’s 2019 World Cup victory is an especially huge win for the line-up’s gay players, who have spoken proudly of their sexual orientation in a sport where homosexuality is still a taboo.

“Go gays!” cheered Megan Rapinoe, USA's star striker, who was awarded the Golden Boot and Golden Ball and who scored one of the side’s winning goals in the final on Sunday.

 

“You can’t win a championship without gays on your team -- it’s never been done before, ever. That’s science, right there!” she quipped.

WATCH: Megan Rapinoe reacts to USA's World Cup final triumph

The line may have been tongue in cheek, but it still carried a lot of significance, noted Dawn Ennis of Outsports, a media outlet specializing in sexual minorities in sports.

“Being authentic, being yourself, being true, makes you a better person,” Ennis said.

“It must make you a better athlete when you are not worrying about hiding a secret about who you are.”

Football federations “need to make sure that players are their authentic selves,” said Ryan Adams, president of the North American Gay Soccer Association, which pushes for the inclusion of members of the LGBTQ community in US soccer.

“It’s in their own interest, when people are their own authentic selves, they are not distracted about being in the closet,” he said.

Rapinoe is far from being the only openly gay member of the team. As well as coach Jill Ellis, five of the American world champions are lesbians, including Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger, who are engaged and are soon to marry.

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Ashlyn Harris and her fiance Alie Krieger celebrate USA's victory in the FIFA Women's World Cup. The duo have been together for nine years and are due to marry this year.   -  Getty Images

Their defeated opponents, the Netherlands, also had five lesbian players in their line-up.

According to Outsports, around 40 of the women who played in the World Cup are members of the LGBTQ community.

Adams said the trend would only continue to grow: “They showed other countries that have closeted people and athletes that you can be your most authentic self and play among the best. It does amazing things for visibility.”

- Where are the men? -

That visibility -- partly due to the 2019 World Cup coinciding with massive Gay Pride parades around the world -- was enhanced by the fact that the tournament was the most-watched in the history of women’s soccer.

“I’m motivated by people like me, who are fighting for the same things,” said Rapinoe.

“I take more energy from that than from trying to prove anyone wrong. That’s draining on yourself. But for me, to be gay and fabulous, during Pride month at the World Cup, is nice.”

“What’s amazing is that the women who are out are not only out, they are out and loud and proud,” said Ennis.

“They are owning their identity and their orientation.”

READ : Ex-USA coach hopes World Cup triumph transforms domestic game

Does that mean the US will now be ready to totally accept gay players?

Adams thinks that it is well on the way, although powerful stereotypes still remain.

“In the US, there is an unfortunate assumption that very good athletes are lesbian. It’s unfair and it’s untrue,” he said.

For men, there is a different standard.

French star Antoine Griezmann said recently that male “players do not come out of the closet because they are afraid,” a fact borne out by homophobic comments on social media and chants in the stadiums.

“There are a lot of bad people in football and players can be afraid to go to stadiums and get abused,” Griezmann said in an interview.

“We know there are gay and bisexual men in sports, but there is a double standard,” said Ennis.

The number of professional male footballers around the world still playing after coming out as gay can easily be counted on the fingers of one hand.

And the men's World Cup last year had no openly gay players on the pitch.

- Positives remain -

A spokeswoman for the largest U.S. LGBTQ-rights organization, Matilda Young of the Human Rights Campaign, said the impact of the team’s inclusiveness would be profound.

“Young LGBTQ athletes, who all too frequently are made to feel unwelcome, have seen themselves reflected in these history-making champions,” Young said.

“Having Americans from every corner of our country embrace these women who are unabashedly proud of their country and of who they are sends a powerful message not only to LGBTQ people, but to sports fans around the world that we are here, we are queer, and we just won the World Cup again.”



On Monday, the top Democrats in Congress invited the team to the Capitol “to celebrate their inspiring victory,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

At the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, the U.S. team’s victories and outspokenness were welcomed by a staff that has campaigned vigorous for equality in the workplace and on the playing field.

“This team is so dominant because they work together they lift each other up,” said Sabrina Stevens, the center’s senior manager of campaign and digital strategies.

“It resonates for so many of us women especially to work your heart out and be so good at what do, and still not get the pay or recognition you deserve,” she said. “We’re rooting for them because we’re rooting for ourselves.”

(with inputs from AP)