An Everton LGBT+ supporters' group has welcomed the introduction of a new national award that recognises Premier League footballers who are “breaking down barriers” and leading the way in promoting inclusivity in football.
Everton forward Richarlison was recently named as one of 10 nominees shortlisted for the British LGBT Awards' inaugural 'Football Allies' prize. The winner is to be announced at a ceremony in London on Friday 27 August.
The 'Allies' category was previously open to names across sport but has this year been coordinated in association with the Justin Fashanu Foundation and is focusing solely on addressing inclusivity in football.
In 2021, there is no openly gay active player in the professional English game.
Dr Mike Homfray, one of the organisers of Everton’s Rainbow Toffees supporters’ group, believes the award can "mainstream" the conversation about LGBT+ equality in football and also encourage more players to step forward as supporters of the LGBT+ community.
Richarlison's nomination recognises his efforts to promote inclusivity in the sport and for previously speaking out publicly on his support for footballers coming out as gay.
In a July 2020 interview with evertonfc.com, the Brazil international, 24, said: "We can no longer live as people did 100 years ago. We are all the same and we should be treated the same. Everyone must be treated, first, with respect and equality”.
He also stressed his belief the football community would unconditionally support any active player who came out as gay and called on fellow sports stars to use their prominent profiles to tackle discrimination of any form to “help change things around for the better”.
Speaking about the new award, Dr Homfray said: “Our allies are really important, and it is vital players can speak out about equality and wanting to eradicate discrimination from the game.
"People like Richarlison are huge role models, for young people particularly. For a young person concerned about coming out, hearing Richarlison say, ‘It’s okay to be gay, we welcome gay supporters at Everton and want them to be themselves,’ that could make a really important difference to that young person’s life.
"I think it’s about getting that level of openness where young people who are LGBT+ know that football is somewhere where they can be themselves and don’t have to hide. I think awards like this are really important because it mainstreams what LGBT equality means for the game."
Rainbow Toffees was founded in 2013 and has grown to 500 members who take part in online forums and social media groups, as well as working with the football club to organise events and coordinate participation in national celebrations and awareness campaigns such as IDAHOBIT Day, Pride, LGBT History Month and Stonewall's Rainbow Laces initiative.
The group is also part of wider LGBT+ networks including Pride in Football, Football v Homophobia and the Gay Football Supporters' Network.
As part of its All Together Now equality and diversity campaign, Everton signed up as one of Stonewall’s ‘Diversity Champions’ in May 2020, a commitment that has seen the Club's staff policies reviewed to ensure they are inclusive for LGBT+ people, while the staff LGBT+ network at the Club co-ordinates a series of awareness-raising events to help increase staff knowledge.
Dr Homfray added: "I think everyone agrees that Everton is the best club when it comes to the community, we are the gold standard and Everton in the Community is the model to follow. I think Everton does fantastic work in that area and our relationship with the Club has always been really constructive. It’s a family club, there’s a sense of belonging, and that’s a really important part of being an Evertonian for me.
"As a group, we thank the Club - and the players - for that support and also welcome the introduction of this progressive award."
Speaking about Richarlison's nomination, Sarah Garrett MBE, founder of the British LGBT Awards, said: “This award shines a light on the football stars who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the LGBT+ community.
"Richarlison is incredibly deserving of his nomination. Like all of those shortlisted, he has used his platform to promote greater inclusivity for LGBT+ people in football.
"His allyship is helping to break down barriers and will help us reach a day when all footballers can be their authentic selves on the playing field."