Rainbow Laces In Profile - Emma O'Connor
As part of the Rainbow Laces campaign between 22 November and 8 December 2019, London FA is releasing a series of features looking at the importance of inclusion within football.
Emma O’Connor, a coach at grassroots club Richmond Park FC, has a deeper affinity to the campaign than most, having come out as gay herself and experienced abuse throughout her career within the game.
Reflecting back on the abhorrent behaviour of some individuals from the Premier League all the way down to grassroots level, she holds the opinion that change towards LGBT+ players is a process that only begins with education.
She said: “Personally, I believe that change happens when you have education and legislations in place. More people are reporting events at football to the police. Hate crime has been on the increase from previous years.
“I have attended a few games a week from Premier League to non-league football. In the professional game, I still hear regular football chants which reference sexual acts, slurs and misgendering, which are all forms of abuse.
“The abusive language doesn’t need to be directed at the LGBTQ+ community for it to be a problem. There’s still more needed to change the game and to keep it evolving.”
Those views have developed over a long period of time for Emma. She began playing football when she was six years old for a variety of academy and grassroots clubs and has also campaigned for disability inclusion within sport having also worked for Down’s Syndrome Association, DSActive.
Throughout that time, she always knew that something was different, making her feel like an outsider in the sport that she deeply loved, but is now proud of who she is and what she represents.
“No one should be restricted or not allowed to play football because of their sexual preference,” Emma continued. “Also, you can’t forget that some people don’t come out until they’re older like myself.
“I came out in my early 30s and I always felt ‘not normal’ than other people. I was not comfortable to say that I was gay until last year. In my head, it was a bigger deal than what it was. I am happier than I have ever been and I feel like a burden has been lifted.”
That alteration in attitude has only been made possible due to Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, allowing players and supporters alike to become more accepting. Emma has suggested that it is fantastic to see that change on a more personal, local level.
She said: “Inclusion is all about making people have an opportunity to be involved within a sporting environment. My role models are not the celebrities or sports individuals but are people who affect positive change within the community.
“No one from the LGBTQ+ community should live in fear that someone might out them before they are ready. Many of my ‘football friends’ support the campaign too. Change must always start from yourself.”
If you would like to learn more about inclusion in football and the 2019 Rainbow Laces campaign, please click here
All participants showing their support to the campaign are also encouraged to share content via London FA’s social media platforms, using the hashtag #RainbowLaces and mentioning @LondonFA on Twitter, @ldnfa on Instagram or @LDNFootballAssociation on Facebook.