Charlton Athletic are leading the way in football’s fight against Homophobia – but there’s still more the game needs to do, says Proud Valiants chairperson Rob Harris.
It comes after Saturday’s 3-1 win over Luton Town saw the club hold their annual ‘Charlton vs Homophobia’ event as part of a nationwide month of action against homophobia.
As well as a number of pre-match events taking place, including London’s LGBT Community Choir The Pink Singers performing on the pitch, there was a post-match reception attended by the club’s new chairman Matt Southall.
It is the fourth year the club have designated a matchday to the cause with much of the activity co-ordinated by the club’s LGBTQI+ supporters’ group, the Proud Valiants.
On the event, Proud Valiants chair Rob Harris said: “Charlton have always supported the ‘Football vs Homophobia’ campaign since the Proud Valiants came into being.
“This one is the biggest we’ve had so far and once again the club have been amazing in really making a stand.
“You’ll never completely eradicate homophobia and racism from football – but football can certainly educate and reach people that other sports can’t.”
Although there are currently no openly gay players in England’s top four professional tiers, Harris believes it is not the most important thing when tackling the issue.
“We have all these great campaigning groups out there that are working really hard to kick homophobia out of the game,” Harris exclusively told London Football Scene.
“It would be great for people to have a role model but for that to happen so many changes still need to take place.
“It’s not just fans that need to accept an openly gay male player – the player needs to feel safe and protected if they do come out.
“Proud Valiants is about working with members to make them feel comfortable attending Charlton games and feeling they can be themselves.
“We’re very lucky to have a club who really understand what equality is and that football is a sport for all to enjoy. That makes our job a lot easier.”
For Harris, the focus from footballing authorities has to be on education rather than punishment, although he concedes it may be an impossible task with some fans if they fail to understand the consequences of their words and actions.
“Football has an important role in looking at areas of hate, wherever that is and it reflects society so much,” Harris added.
“When you go to a football match as an LGBT person, the people around you won’t necessarily know it but it is football’s responsibility to allow that person to feel safe and secure watching a match.
“It only takes one offensive chant to shatter the love and passion you feel and drag you back to a sense of fear and isolation.”