An email exchange yesterday, with what started as a passing comment about views and perceptions on the upcoming World Cup made me realise just how affected I was by the event and its significance. And I realise that I am not the only one within the LGBTQ+ community (and indeed beyond) to feel a deep sense of unease, sadness, frustration and anger about the event, which is only likely to grow over the coming weeks.
Why such feelings? At a top level, because the event is hosted by a country where it remains illegal to be LGBTQ+ and aspiring to live a life as yourself. And those who do are persecuted, tracked down, imprisoned and for some attempted to be "converted". That regimes with such laws exist is deeply troubling in itself. The fact that possibly the largest sporting event in the world (alongside the Olympics) is hosted by such a regime triggers deep feelings because events like these can be such an opportunity to bring the world together, have a huge potential for being forces for inclusion and positive change, and seeing this one carrying such a divisive message feels, if anything, like a huge missed opportunity, a waste of a world stage, and a tainted celebration. As a gay man, I long for opportunities to feel openly included and accepted in events and celebrations which bring people together across boundaries. Yet, a few weeks ago, a UK official was asking our community to "flex and compromise", and just a few days ago, a World Cup representative told us that being LGBTQ+ is a "damage in the mind". This isn't just about not being invited to the party, it gives a feeling of the party wishing you never existed.
At a personal level, other aspects are factored into my feelings about the event. Of course, poor human rights record and reports of unacceptable working conditions as well as casualties for those, mainly brought in from poorer countries, who help build the stadiums. And the simple fact of running the games in purpose-built, air conditioned stadiums, when in parallel we are facing a climate emergency and asking for radical actions to be taken. Adding to this the conditions in which the hosting of the World Cup was awarded, and widespread issues of corruptions unearthed since then, it becomes impossible to make sense of how we expect the world to come together and celebrate, and how such a situation has been enabled and allowed to take place in the first instance.
This situation means that many will feel conflicted about following and supporting the World Cup over the next few weeks. For the LGBTQ+ community, there will be an additional feeling of being singled out, and a constant reminder through seeing reports of the event and games taking place, of how we are a problematic audience. It has to be acknowledged that there is very open and clear support from public figures, such as players speaking openly, showing their support with rainbow armbands, etc. This support helps, even if it also acts as a reminder of the antagonist views it stands against.
With this in mind, you may find that LGBTQ+ friends and colleagues around you have a hard time joining in with discussions and celebrations which would normally take place during such an event. They may even feel more withdrawn, with the constant weight of this issue taking its toll, and being an ongoing source of distraction and sadness. How can you help? I searched for targeted resources and thoughts on this question, and couldn't find much which was directly relevant. So here are some thoughts and resources which I believe might help, and effectively refer back to what being an ally means in practice:
Educate yourselves if you still aren't sure why this is an issue, and why the LGBTQ+ community might feel the way they do. Here are a couple of articles which might help: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/news/why-does-it-matter-world-cup-qatar ; https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/10/24/qatar-security-forces-arrest-abuse-lgbt-people
Show your support by joining me and thousands others in signing up to Stonewall's Pride Stadium initiative: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/stand-lgbtq-people-qatar-proud-stadium
Remind yourself of what LGBTQ+ allyship is about: https://reports.hrc.org/being-an-lgbtq-ally?_ga=2.99206295.848647369.1668592206-197189443.1668592206
Be open to having a conversation and inviting people to share their thoughts and feelings about what is happening - while respecting that some might not feel comfortable to - make it clear that you are here to speak to, as and when it feels right
Call out any language or so-called "banter" which becomes inappropriate or discriminatory, and help others understand why
Try not to fall into the other extreme of silencing talks of the World Cup, or celebrations of winning games, as a sign of respect for your LGBTQ+ friend(s) or colleague(s) - it may have a positive intent, however is likely to make LGBTQ+ people feel that they are preventing others from enjoying themselves, and bring up feelings of guilt
The best remains to have an open conversation as a social group, so that each can appreciate others' views and feelings and act accordingly.
As often, this isn't an easy position to be in, and unfortunately a position which we should not find ourselves in to start with. And as always, it is down to emphasising the importance of showing interest, care, respect and empathy to support those around us, whatever their situation. At the same time, it should also be a catalyst for anyone in a position to do so, to get all voices heard, and make sure events like these serve as a springboard to mobilise support for deeper, wider and long-standing change.