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Published 08 December 2021 5 min read
Jordan Henderson

Henderson: Players can help ensure football is inclusive for LGBTQ+ people

Written by:

Frank Smith

England star Jordan Henderson meets Three Lions Pride member Joe White and presenter Ben Hunte as part of the 2021 Rainbow Laces campaign

Jordan Henderson believes footballers can play an important role in educating the younger generations when it comes to ensuring the sport is inclusive for LGBTQ+ people.

Henderson is one of the most vocal supporters of LGBTQ+ rights within the men’s game and recently the Liverpool captain sat down with Three Lions Pride member and England fan Joe White and presenter Ben Hunte as part of the 2021 Rainbow Laces campaign.

In the summer, a tweet from White after England’s EURO 2020 win over Germany went viral when they were quote-tweeted by Henderson.

White, who has followed England home and away for several years, had started to explore their gender identity before the Covid pandemic and realised they were non-binary. 

The 2-0 victory over Germany in June was the first time they had attended a home England match in full make-up and, in their words, ‘overtly queer as opposed to just camp’.

The co-chair of the Gay Gooners supporters’ group posted on Twitter after the match how proud they were of the England fans after not receiving any abuse at the game and having a number of positive conversations.

Their tweet was picked up on by Henderson, who said he ‘really liked the message and that it struck a cord’.

The midfielder’s support meant a lot to White and after the pair’s exchange in the summer, they were invited to St. George’s Park last month to sit down with Henderson and Hunte, who is gay, to discuss a number of topics as part of the 2021 Rainbow Laces campaign.

On Henderson’s tweet, White said: “The great thing from it was having that support from someone in the team you are all supporting, because it shows you have allyship in the squad and anybody at an England game who is like ‘Urgh, what are you doing?’ then [you can reply with] ‘well actually Jordan Henderson is fine with it, why aren’t you?’

“That is a really powerful thing to be able to say to anybody who is trying to diminish who we are as people.”

Henderson continued: “That should be normal. We shouldn’t need to speak about that. That should just be a given and be the way it is. But unfortunately I don’t think that is the case a lot of the time. So little things that I can do like wearing the rainbow laces, wearing the rainbow armband and little things like that where I can show my support, then I try to do my bit. I think it is really important that we can educate people so these situations do not occur.”

“The more we can show our support as players, it sets an example and an education to the younger generation that we are all inclusive,” he added.

The Germany game was particularly poignant for White, considering some awful abuse they received from fellow England fans at the Nations League in 2019.

White spoke of the great experience at the Russia World Cup in 2018 where they felt Three Lions supporters probably viewed the Three Lions Pride members as ‘proper England fans rather than a tick box’.

The 2021 Rainbow Laces campaign runs from November 25 to December 12
The 2021 Rainbow Laces campaign runs from November 25 to December 12

However, a year later White said they experienced more homophobic abuse in two hours from England fans than they had experienced at all the other games they had attended combined.

White explained: “There is that disparity that you cannot predict which crowd you are going to get but it is definitely moving in the right direction. It is probably slower than I would like but there is positivity to take that it is moving in the right direction.

“People are engaging a lot more. We have had people who have come up to us with their friends and one of their friends has been a prat and starts trying to mouth off and their friends will be like ‘nah shut up mate’. 

“I think that is because people are feeling more comfortable to call out behaviour that shouldn’t be accepted in football.”

In October, Australian footballer Josh Carvalho announced he was gay, becoming the only current top-flight male professional footballer in the world to do so. 

It was news which Henderson and his team-mates welcomed.

Henderson said: “It was very, very positive [news among the players]. He is a role model to a lot of people. 

“Hopefully we can help support in whatever way we can so more people feel like they can be themselves and he is definitely a role model to follow and a very inspirational person.”

Jordan Henderson has been a long-time supporter of the Rainbow Laces campaign
Jordan Henderson has been a long-time supporter of the Rainbow Laces campaign

The midfielder continued: “Players will feel inspired by it for sure. Whether or not they feel as though they can follow in his footsteps is another thing. But all we can do is try to support that as much as possible because honestly – I can only speak for the dressing rooms that I am in with England and Liverpool – but hand on heart, if any of the players came out, it wouldn’t change any perception or anything within the changing room. 

“I can guarantee that with the teammates I have. In fact, it would probably make us look up to them and respect them even more really.

“It is about showing our support that if anybody doesn’t feel comfortable or doesn’t feel they can do that then we need to make sure they feel as though they can and they have full support behind them. 

“That would 100 per cent be the case from me personally and from all the teammates I play with.”

Henderson asked White what he and the other players could more of to help those in the LGBTQ+ community.

White replied: “Amplifying LGBT+ voices is a wonderful way of engaging and getting that message out there because I can appreciate from the amount of outreach that we have done, that a lot of people are worried about getting it wrong and the best way of approaching that is everyone gets it wrong. My friends get my pronouns wrong but they know the best way of doing it is to apologise, correct it and move on.

“You shouldn’t have to make it a big issue every time and that is where education comes in. If you are not sure, ask. Just ask in a polite way like you would ask anything else you are not sure about.

Henderson and White were joined for the chat by former BBC correspondent and now Vice senior reporter Hunte.

Rainbow Laces Campaign 2021

He concluded the interview by saying: “Ultimately football is something people enjoy. You want to watch it, you want to engage with it, you want to play it. But at the moment there are a minority of people who are struggling to get their full enjoyment from it.

“It is acknowledging footballers do have huge platforms. You see it on the women’s team. You see it all the time that [women’s] players are talking about their experiences and you can because a lot more of them are out about who they are. 

“But at the same time, there is so much more work to be done and I think it is about bringing a portion of the education to an audience who doesn’t necessarily expect it from you [as footballers] because you can. You can do it in a way which isn’t preachy and isn’t feeling like you are telling them off about something but it is still giving them a moment of ‘think about this’.

“I think if more people did that then you would see a lot more of a push from fans to just understand people. That is what it comes down to. Literally just understanding people. The more of that the better.”

The Rainbow Laces campaign started on Thursday 25 November and will run through until Sunday 12 December, with Wednesday 8 December designated as this year’s landmark ‘wear your rainbow laces day’.

You can find out more about the Rainbow Laces campaign here or you can watch the conversation between Henderson, White and Hunte below.