CAS Trust's Craig Sloman meets a new group of Charlton Supporters........
On May the 18th the Club announced that a new fans’ group had been formed by a number of supporters who identify themselves as part of the LGBT community. The Proud Valiants are the first representative group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Addicks and I caught up with one of the founding members, Rob, a long standing fan and season ticket holder at the Valley, for more information on the origins of the group and what it hopes to achieve.
Rob explains that around 10 years ago he played for a local football team made up of gay players and of the 20-man squad, four happened to be Charlton supporters. Over the ensuing years the teammates started to attend Charlton matches together but life took the friends in different directions and the group dispersed around the country which made attending together difficult. Then, after attending the Football v Homophobia (http://www.thefa.com/football-rules-governance/equality/football-v-homophobia) conference in Manchester this year and meeting a number of other clubs’ LGBT supporters groups they decided to investigate if one would be wanted or needed at Charlton and if it would make a positive contribution to the Addicks community. This provides LGBT Charlton fans with the same representation as over 30 other clubs (including most major London sides) in England who already have an equivalent organisation. Many of these groups already belong to Pride in Football, a newly formed organisation to fight homophobia within the sport.
Rob cites another key reason for setting up the group: an official presence recognised by the club to avoid any repeat of last season’s “Charlton Rainbows” hoax (http://metro.co.uk/2015/01/11/lgbt-charlton-athletic-fans-lured-to-hoax-meeting-before-being-attacked-5017953/) when a fake supporters group, purporting to represent LGBT Charlton supporters, used social media to publicise a possible meet up for drinks with a rival sides’ LGBT fans group. It transpired that the Charlton Rainbows social media presence had been created solely to spread false rumours pertaining to Charltons LGBT supporter community with potentially horrendous consequences. Thankfully this deception was exposed in time and the Police subsequently investigated the murky circumstances. One positive factor which emerged from the sorry episode was the confirmation in the mind of Rob that a real Charlton LGBT group was necessary to provide protection and legitimate security for gay fans who just want to attend games safely.
After receiving support from both the Club (vital to assure fans that this was not another fabricated organisation) and the Football Supporters Federation the Proud Valiants were launched. Rob says the backing from the Club has been wonderful and promotion on the Club’s official site and social media channels brought widespread attention to the Proud Valiants. Support for the group, from both straight and LGBT Addicks was overwhelmingly positive, however on the 19th May the Club banned a 33 year old season ticket holder “following a number of discriminatory, abusive and threatening comments made via social media”.
Rob thinks that the minority of negative reactions are mainly based on a lack of understanding as to why the group has been formed, and why it might be needed. Rob says the Proud Valiants has not been founded to create a division between gay and straight Charlton fans, nor are they looking to promote other LGBT issues. Their aims are simply to create a safe, comfortable match day experience for LGBT supporters akin to that which straight supporters experience (probably without even realising) where someone does not feel awkward, threatened or uneasy because of their sexuality. He continued by saying that one way to help LGBT supporters feel more included in the match day experience is for all supporters to consider the language they use during a match. Words like “pansy”, “poof” and “queer” – common slang terms for a gay person - are used in a pejorative sense casually against players who are assumed to have done something wrong (particularly something which is perceived to be effeminate, for instance hitting the deck easily after a soft challenge) and the connotation of using such terms is clear even if unintended – gay people are the lesser. Whilst LGBT Charlton fans may not be the direct target of this abuse, it alienates gay supporters and creates an atmosphere that accepts casual homophobic abuse. It is the duty of all Charlton supporters to continue the ground breaking work our Club has done to combat racism at the Valley by extending that welcoming atmosphere to all demographics, and the challenge for this generation is to ensure that all forms of discrimination are eradicated from the game and there is no more fitting a ground to pursue this goal than the Valley.
Ultimately Rob says “We all go to the Valley for one thing, the love of Charlton, for those 90 plus minutes we are there we are football fans united, to every LGBT fan when they are at a match the football takes over – why should we have to then have our enjoyment spoiled by some chuck away comment, which in turns makes us feel awkward for the rest of the match”. The Proud Valiants aim to ensure that Charlton’s LGBT fans can enjoy those 90 minutes just the same as every other Addick - with only on the field disappointments ruining the day !
Should you have any questions or concerns you wish to discuss or want to know more about the work they will be doing and the social events the group have planned for next season please contact the Proud Valiants.
To Join the Proud Valiants Supporters Group – Join Via eepurl.com/bn4sJL
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