Editor’s Note: See update at bottom.
The Orlando Pride are, by their very name, a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community. Many of the Pride’s most prominent players have been gay, and Exploria Stadium includes 49 rainbow-colored seats as a memorial to the victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub mass shooting. But apparently, the word “gay” is too political for the team.
Members of the Black Swans Drinking Club, a brilliantly named Orlando supporters’ group, were told during the Pride’s 0-0 draw with the Washington Spirit on Saturday that their one-word banner had to be removed for political reasons. That one word: GAY.
— BlackSwans (@BlackSwansDC) March 19, 2022
Exploria Stadium explicitly prohibits signs with political statements, but who deems what is considered political? Just last month, the Pride claimed they stood in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, saying the club “will not support actions that target” LGBTQ+ community. Then the club targeted the LGBTQ+ community.
— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) February 28, 2022
Let’s just start by explaining the word “gay” is not political. LGBTQ+ rights are not up for political debate; LGBTQ+ rights should be inalienable human rights akin to racial or gender rights. The Orlando Pride telling fans they can’t display a banner with the word “gay” on it is like telling fans they can’t display a banner with the word “woman” or “Black” on it.
Nonetheless, the banner, which made it into the Spirit’s pregame hype video, was forcibly removed and the Pride have yet to make any sort of public statement about the removal.
To make matters worse, the USMNT is scheduled to host a crucial World Cup qualifier against Panama at Exploria Stadium on Sunday. How can U.S. Soccer justify playing such a massive match in a stadium that sees the LGBTQ+ community as a political pawn and not the humans they are?
So, why is “gay” suddenly considered political? A quick look at what the Florida state government is up to provides the answer.
Two weeks ago, Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill that has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law this week. The law forbids instruction to children of a certain (but not specified) age on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, allowing parents to sue districts over violations.
The bill reads: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Opponents to the law have criticized it for marginalizing LGBTQ+ people. Proponents of the law say parents, not teachers, should broach the subject of these types of human rights with their children. It’s part of spate of culture war legislation passed by lawmakers around the country in hopes of boosting their chances in the 2022 midterm elections. This manufactured culture war has led to laws against discussions on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, social justice or anything else that white men might feel uncomfortable talking about. Even rap music has been targeted, not just by Republicans but some Democrats too.
Republicans argue the “Don’t Say Gay” law won’t stop teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity spontaneously but merely keep schools from integrating such dialogues into their curriculum. Democrats who read the bill argue the wording is so vague that parents could find success suing over just about any conversation. Earlier versions of the bill included an amendment that would require teachers to out a student to their parents if the student came out to the teacher; though that monstrous addition was taken out, it exemplifies the damage to the LGBTQ+ community the bill is trying to inflict.
So now, just saying the word “gay” is seen as political, because it’s in opposition to a piece of legislation aiming to restrict human rights.
Orlando Pride players have been quite outspoken about their opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” law. They put together a video of all of them saying “gay” to show their disdain for the bill last week.
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Many of the players also commented “gay” on the BSDC Instagram post talking about the banner being removed, and other supporters’ groups made statements of solidarity with the BSDC banner.
Statement re: last night’s events at Exploria Stadium. pic.twitter.com/4btiRftAbh— RUCKUS. (@RuckusOrlando) March 20, 2022
One would expect a club named in celebration of the LGBTQ+ community would be on board in opposition to a law aimed at discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community. It appears this is not the case. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised; this is an organization that has partnered with one of the most openly homophobic companies in the country and is part-owned by the family of Betsy DeVos, who as Secretary of Education thought it was OK for schools receiving federal funding to deny admission to LGBTQ+ students or those coming from LGBTQ+ families.
Of course, this entire story is exactly what the Republican party wants as part of its bizarre culture war in attempts to stay in power. The GOP wants voters focused on discriminating “others,” as with a recent anti-trans mandate USWNT players protested in Texas. It’s all a distraction.
The Orlando Pride and by extension the NWSL are buying into this distraction by allowing “gay” to become seen as somehow political. Again, neither the club nor the league has made any sort of official statement on why the banner was deemed political.
It’s yet another misstep from a league that can ill-afford to continue to alienate its fan base. The NWSL wants to move on from its lengthy list of coaches who have been accused of abuse ranging from verbal to sexual, and yet it can’t get out of its own way, as when the N.C. Courage brought back an openly homophobic player despite fan criticism.
The NWSL has made strides in the right direction over the last few months. In February the league and players agreed to a first-ever CBA, which finally guaranteed players a living wage. Earlier this month, Jessica Berman was named the new commissioner. But if clubs and the league continue to anger their devoted fanbase, the women’s soccer will suffer.
This issue is made all the worse by the fact the USMNT will play its final home World Cup qualifier against Panama — one that could determine the team’s World Cup fate — in Exploria Stadium on Sunday. U.S. Soccer has made no public comment on choosing to play such a big match in a state actively trying to erase the identities of LGBTQ+ people.
I understand Florida allows the USMNT to travel less geographically between its matches in Mexico and Costa Rica, but U.S. Soccer should have never scheduled this match for Orlando. (This law has been in the workings for months now, well before the USMNT picked Orlando for the site of the match.) While it’s probably too late to move the game, one hopes U.S. Soccer at least uses the moment to condemn hateful laws, something the USMNT players might already be planning.
Nor has there yet been one on the anti-LGTBQ+ bill passed by the Florida legislature. Though on that matter, I have heard something is coming, potentially to include a demonstration by the USMNT at the WCQ game in Orlando. https://t.co/QZVpvb9Umn— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) March 8, 2022
After the mass protests following the murder of George Floyd by police officers in 2020, one political party has actively sought to take away the rights and control the bodies of countless Americans in a blatant attempt to promote needless culture wars and inflict real harm on anyone considered “other” to their white, Christian voting bloc. Sports organizations — especially clubs and leagues filled with LGBTQ+ players plus non-profits like U.S. Soccer — must stand up for human rights and ignore those who incorrectly spew the sad refrain that politics don’t belong in sports. Sports and politics have always been intertwined, as the recent events in Russia and Ukraine have made abundantly clear.
Then again, given World Cup host Qatar’s deplorable record on LGBTQ+ and human rights, maybe it’s fitting for U.S. Soccer to host its final home qualifier in a state that doesn’t believe queer people should exist in the public eye. Maybe, given its history, it’s fitting for the NWSL to make “gay” political instead of standing up for human rights.
Update March 22
The Orlando Pride issued an apology on Tuesday and admitted the club was wrong for having forced the banner to be removed. The Black Swans Drinking Club has permission to display the banner at future Pride matches at Exploria Stadium.
Joint Statement from the Orlando Pride and @BlackSwansDC.
— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) March 22, 2022