Katie Glossop is the Participation & Inclusion Manager at Sheffield United Community Foundation. Sheffield United Community Foundation works in four key areas, Education & Training, Health & Well-being, NCS, and Participation and Inclusion.
EFDN: Katie, what is a day like in your role as a Participation & Inclusion Manager. Are there specific target groups in terms of participation and inclusion?
Working as a Participation & Inclusion Manager is essentially getting as many people involved in physical activity and developing partnerships that enable us to do so. The aim is to create a stronger and more inclusive community at Sheffield.
No one should be told that they can’t participate in physical activity, so my job is to overcome those barriers, to help people do that. You should always be able to be your true authentic self in doing physical activity.
We have been focusing on women and girls, which is driven from a personal interest of mine, growing up as a woman playing sports and the challenges that come with that. But since coming back from maternity leave, we have expanded our focus to LGBTQ+ communities in Sheffield. Of course, we continue focusing on women and girls as well, as there is still a lot to do in this area.
After attending the Pride in Sports conference and reflecting on what we can do as an organization, we realized we didn’t do enough for the LGBTQ+ community. There was this underrepresented group here in Sheffield that we didn’t do anything for, and the question was why?
So, over the last 12 months, doing more for participation and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community has become a focus. We are looking at how we provide safe physical activity opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community and for women and girls. Additionally, we are also looking into what other areas can we help with, for instance regarding mental health or physical health and addressing discrimination.
We have developed two projects, for which we received three-year funding from the Premier League and the Professional Footballers Association (PLPFA). One for women and girls, with the specific focus on young mothers and one project supporting young LGBTQ+ children between 11-25. Both are very much key interests of mine, as the result of the discrimination I felt growing up as a woman playing football. As a football club and city, we need to do more to help empower the LGBTQ+ community, so hopefully with this project we can plant seeds and get more people on board in the wider Sheffield community.
In your opinion, is football currently as safe space for LGBTQ+ people?
No, I don’t think it’s safe, we’re not there yet. Although, football clubs have taken great steps in addressing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. Of course, with COVID and fans not being allowed in the stadium, we have had some time to reflect. For instance, if you look at the Football v Homophobia awards, and you look at the clubs being nominated – Sheffield United being one of them – there are football clubs out there making great strides to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ communities. However, there’s a lot more we can do, and that’s where we come in as a Community Foundation. We deliver programmes seven days and work alongside the Club itself on game days and training days. We want to have a long-term approach.
We have to create an inclusive society by educating those around us, empower those to stand up and become allies and support the people that need our voice. I’m saying “our” voice, as I don’t identify as LGBTQ+ myself, but as a woman I can reflect on the kinds of incidents that the LGBTQ+ face, because I’ve experienced those negative attitudes because of my gender. One should never have to experience this feeling because of being lesbian, gay, transgender. It’s just who you are. Therefore, education really is key and that is why education is going to be our focus for the next 18 months. The aim is to educate and get more allies. Allyship is going to be a major contributor to a more inclusive environment.
What are some of the ways Sheffield United Community Foundation works to create a more inclusive environment?
Currently, we are delivering workshops and educational programmes in secondary schools. Children in secondary schools are our target groups, as that is sort of the start to the age where people are starting to get into major sports. In primary schools, everyone can participate in sports, but when you get to secondary school, you kind of start picking and choosing. Do you want to play this sport or the other? And at this age, that is where we see the majority drop out.
We are going to be working with our local LGBTQ+ organisation Say It. They are the experts in education. Partners like Say It are key. We want to champion allyship and to create a better understanding of the impact on a young person who may not yet feel comfortable in their authentic self. We want to create that safe space and show how you can support your peers and empower young people to challenge negative language and behaviour. We have a real cultural issue with using the word ‘gay’ as a slur. So that’s what we will be doing. We will be working with the local universities and their youth networks and student unions in Sheffield as well.
Alongside the sports sessions, working with Say It, we started a pilot session for LGBTQ+ communities. For instance, you might want to go to the gym, but the gym might not be a safe space for LGBTQ+ community. So, we are working on how to identify these problems and how we should address these issues with the social power of Sheffield United. We’re looking at small ways to contribute to more inclusion in sports in physical activity. Listing is key, we’re not the experts. We need to listen to LGBTQ+ people and hear what they are saying, so that we can create an environment that is welcoming for them.
The FA recently launched the Football Leadership Diversity Code. How do these and similar initiatives help to foster more diversity?
The code is a great initiative. However, we do need to keep questioning them as well, are they targeting the right people? This is something we always need to reflect on ourselves as well. We have this project, but is it reaching the right people? Having these diversity courses is great, as it means that actions are added to words.
We need people to stand up and make a change. We need to actively work to become more inclusive and diverse and provide opportunities.
So, it is good that the FA are involved in creating change, but all comes from actions. For instance, looking at the Football v Homophobia campaign and seeing what the clubs are doing, that’s what we need to be hearing more of. We need to be doing more action, in addition to speaking words.
Are you noticing change when it comes to addressing LGBTQphobia in Sheffield, but also in football as a whole?
Yes, ever since coming back from maternity leave and coming back into the football club, there’s been a noticeable change. People are talking about it. Within the Foundation, we’ve had training about being LGBTQ+ inclusive in the workplace and to supporting colleagues to challenge behaviour. Of course, being away from people due to COVID makes it difficult to have these conversations, but it allows for reflection. Training isn’t always the answer, but it is a great way to educate us about different cultures, diverse communities and understanding barriers and struggles that each community faces. But also understanding the appropriate language, for instance, what is offensive and what is not offensive. That is difficult sometimes, as you go from not knowing anything, to learning everything, to then challenge your beliefs. We notice that people are willing to learn and understand and have these conversations and challenge language. That ‘s the aim.
After COVID, when we can deliver sessions again, that’s where the real challenge starts, because then we need to make sure that language is actually challenged and that it happens every day in every one of our sessions. That’s where the difficulty is with young people, challenging them in a way that is not aggressive, but emphasizing on the education and the importance of language.
For us the Rainbow Blades, the LGBTQ+ supporters group of Sheffield United, are a great partner. They are a huge step for LGBTQ+ inclusion and having that safe space linked to the football club. James Laley, the founder, is helping us with the design and the implementation of the project. Additionally, he is also involved in the steering group. Having the Rainbow Blades and having that safe space linked to the football club is really important. The amount that they’ve grown over the 8 months is fantastic, which has also been recognized by the Football v Homophobia awards. They are a really valuable partner as they challenge us as well. We’re not always going to get it right, but we should be trying to do it right and together with Rainbow Blades we can create a more inclusive environment.
In your opinion, what is the most urgent change that is needed?
Role models and education are the most important in my opinion. I always use the phrase, ‘if you can see it, you can be it’. And if you can’t see it, how can you be it?
Driven from my own experience as a woman in sport, there have always been people that I looked up to. For instance, women that played for England who I grew up watching, women who coach, etc. We do need these role models, particularly in football. Not just LGBTQ+ role models, but role models who are allies and who openly challenge homophobic, biphobic and transphobic behaviour and dare to say ‘that’s not okay’.
Additionally, education is a priority. It goes hand in hand with role models. If we’re going to create a society that is inclusive, welcoming and accepting, that’s where we need education. We can’t ignore that we had generations were unacceptable behaviour went unchallenged by the majority. We need to educate the older generations and the new generations to comfortable challenges and be able to say, ‘actually, that’s offensive and discriminatory’.
When it comes to speaking up against racism and LGBTQphobia, the United Kingdom has an explementary role. How important are campaigns such as the Rainbow Laces campaigns?
Campaigns like the Rainbow Laces campaign are of big help. Change is not going to happen overnight. If you think about the amount of work that has gone into anti-racism campaigns over the last 30 years, we have a similar journey ahead of us for addressing LGBTQphobia. I am hoping it won’t take so long. For me, it’s not just one month campaign, it’s 12 months of the year, championing LGBTQ+ equality.
Clubs should be promoting it all the time so that people understand that it’s not just a showpiece, but actually creating a more inclusive society, city, country and, hopefully, world.
Because that’s the end goal, creating a more inclusive world. Some countries are not there yet (with over 70 countries criminalising LGBTQ+ people), but even with addressing racism we’re not there yet. We can only do what we can do and look at ourselves first and branch out and share our knowledge. Campaigns like the Rainbow Laces, if we can make those 365 days a year, then in the not-so-distant future we can provide that safe space that allows footballers to be their authentic self.
What are some of the important best practices that we should look at?
If I look at the Sheffield United Community Foundation and the fight against racism, for example the No Room For Racism campaign and the visual sign of players kneeling and making a statement. Such a visible statement helps us to stand together and collectively address issues like racism and LGBTQphobia.
Of course, they are societal problems as well, so I can’t go into politics exactly, as in the end the Government of each country is also responsible for making their citizens feel safe. I don’t have an influence at that level, so I reflect on my own personal experience.
No one should ever be told they can’t do something because of who they are, whether it’s their gender, their skin colour, their religion, their sexual orientation or gender identity. We’re all human beings and we all live on this planet. For me, we just have to keep doing the right things, educate and look at role models. Those are the things we can be doing ourselves, share stories and empower people to take a stand.
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