RR: So we believe you are Sunderland’s newest fan club, and perhaps one of the most important. How did the formation come about?
SW: Well I’ve been an LGBTQ advocate for as long as I can remember now. I’ve always been passionate about equality and campaigning for improving human rights.
I’m from Sunderland and during my time at University (2010-2013) I worked for Spark Sunderland where I did a show called ‘Being LGBT’ and that show covered LGBT issues in general but also touched on homophobia and LGBTQ inclusion in football. So setting up some sort of supporters group for SAFC LGBTQ fans has always been at the back of my mind.
I then saw the club actively asking for anyone interested in setting up an LGBTQ group to contact them, this was back in November during the rainbow laces campaign. I contacted the club near the end of January and here we are.
RR: Do you run the group alone, or is there a committee of sorts?
SW: At the moment I am in the process of getting it started with the support of SAFC, who have been great and shown enthusiasm in terms of getting the group established.
I have drafted a constitution for the group with the help of other LGBTQ supporters groups across the country and there will be an elected committee with various positions, and anyone who is a member will be able to stand for those positions. All decisions about the group will be made democratically, this includes changes to the constitution and how it operates.
One of the first discussions in the groups first meeting will be about asking members what they want from the group and any ideas they have. I want LGBTQ fans to know that everyone has a say in how SAFC LGBTQ operates and what it’s goals and aims will be going forward.
RR: Have you started getting members from all over the country?
SW: We don’t have a membership base just yet, the group is very much just getting its foundations setup.
I am living between Sunderland and the West Midlands so it’s already not local! I want it to be a country wide group, so LGBTQ fans and allies from all over can join.
I have asked anyone who wants to be a member to email: firstname.lastname@example.org to say they’d like to join, then once we have a launch meeting/event lined up I can send out the details along with any other updates as things progress forward.
Of course the group will be predominantly for LGBTQ+ supporters but this also includes their families and friends, because allies are extremely important to our community and solidarity across all communities is vital to progress.
I think SAFC brings together diverse groups, with one common goal which is supporting the best football club on the planet.
RR: Did you take any inspiration from the success other groups? Did any other club branch help with the set up?
SW: I didn’t actually realise how many groups were operating to be honest! I’ve just started reaching out to other branches and the support on social media has been excellent. Especially on Twitter, the support from other groups and the fans in general, including the straight community, has been really encouraging and I’ll be meeting with people from other groups over the coming weeks.
When you look at the community of other LGBTQ groups across football, Sunderland AFC’s group has been a long time coming really!
I think it will be an asset to the club and act to encourage more LGBTQ Sunderland fans to get involved with the club, get down to the stadium, get to more away games and feel more included.
RR: I think it’s hugely important for our club to have a LGBTQ group. What are you hopes, aims and target mission?
SW: It’s about showing fans and the wider footballing community that Sunderland AFC is a safe space for fans of all backgrounds including members of the LGBTQ community. It’s 2019 and the days of people being abused because of sexual orientation, gender identity, and anything else for that matter should be long gone.
I want the group to aim to show other LGBTQ fans that they are not alone and that they have a group they can contact and who can provide that added support.
I understand how alone you can feel as a minority, I mean I’m gay and I have a physical disability (muscular dystrophy), so I’ve always felt isolated from wider society and sometimes you just need more support and friendship, and this group will offer that. It should be a family and support network, that is my vision for it.
I also see SAFC LGBTQ being about contributing to the wider campaign to stop/prevent incidents of LGBTQ discrimination and make sure that wherever discrimination is experienced or witnessed, that it gets appropriately reported, and that people feel empowered to report it so that the right action can be taken.
I think having that bigger picture in mind is important, the culture is changing but we still find ourselves with this anomaly of no open LGBTQ footballers at the top tiers of the men’s game.
The notion that “there are none” is laughable and we as a footballing community need to ask ourselves why. Once you’ve answered that question in your head I think the importance of LGBTQ supporters groups is all too clear. It’s got a lot to do with educating people and tackling the ignorance that often turns into discrimination.
Simply putting a ban on someone for being homophobic or whatever it may be, may deter others from doing the same or them from doing it again, but at the end of the day actually educating that person is probably the more productive way forward, as other LGBTQ groups have found.
RR: You’re obviously still very early in the process, but do you have events and meet ups on the horizon if people want to get involved?
SW: Not at the moment but if fans want to get following us on social media and as mentioned drop me an email, as soon as events and meetings are organised they’ll be the first to know. I’ve got discussions with the club this week so I’m sure I’ll be getting close to scheduling something over the next week or so.
RR: Sunderland’s new owners have worked hard to ensure that supporters are very much included in everything that goes on. How important do you think they could be for groups like yours?
SW: The new owners have been brilliant, I think that’s safe to say.
I haven’t had any contact with the owners, though the group is younger than Lynden Gooch’s baby so I doubt they even know about it yet! But it would be great to hear from them, and I’m sure I will in due course.
I want the group to have a really open dialogue with the club. I’ve been really encouraged with how keen the club has been to get this group off the ground and they deserve a lot of credit for that. It wasn’t a case of an email with “yeah lets get it sorted, speak in a few weeks” it was more of “yeah, lets do this now”, which is exactly what I wanted.
I think that’s why people get the impression that we’ve been operating longer than is actually the case, because things have developed so quickly!
RR: How can fans join the group?
SW: I’m a Twitter addict so if you want to contact me there you can via the group page @SAFCLGBTQ or my personal page @SamWiseSW I’ll likely respond straight away unless I’m asleep!
Email the group: email@example.com.
We have a public Facebook page, just search ‘SAFC LGBTQ’, and I’ll be opening a private ‘members’ group this coming week.
So if anybody wants to know more or has any questions contact me any time. I can talk through email, social media or I can give you a call.