By Skyler Smith
Photo Credits: Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography and CCSG
Atlético Ottawa fans are recovering from a jam-packed weekend. Last Saturday, August 26th, was our Soccer for Everyone match, where we fought rivals Forge FC to a 0-0 draw while the Inflatable Wally announced his retirement. This was followed the next day by the Capital Pride parade – in which both Atlético Ottawa and the Captial City Supporters Group marched in.
Our Soccer for Everyone match and our participation in the Pride parade is a bold celebration of queer joy and our hard-won rights. The dub was loud and proud on Saturday night as attendance cracked 5,000 for the third game in a row. Tens of thousands of people participated in the parade as marchers or spectators, joined the March for Trans Rights, or took in various Pride events over the past couple of weeks.
Sadly, there is a serious undertone to Pride this year. Increasing anti-2SLGBTQIA+ sentiment has resulted in numerous incidents of transphobic and homophobic hate. Events such as drag storytimes have been threatened with protests and worse. At the same time, we seem to be backsliding on 2SLGBTQIA+ rights – many US states have passed anti-trans legislation, the governments of New Brunswick and Saskatchewan recently adopted policies that would forcibly out trans kids to their parents, and based on recent comments, Ontario may soon follow suit.
Canada is not immune to this trend – not even in large, cosmopolitan centres like Ottawa. Hate incidents targeting the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in Ottawa have doubled over the past year. Ottawa has had the displeasure of being the target of about a dozen anti-2SLGBTQIA+ rallies and mobilizations in the first seven months of 2023 alone, including one in front of schools on Broadview Avenue, which turned violent as hateful protesters physically attacked community defenders. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, a small group of hateful bigots decided to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon harassing a Pride event in Vanier – though they were quickly drowned out by love and acceptance when they tried it at the Capital Pride parade.
That’s why it is more important than ever for all of us – 2SLGBTQIA+ folk and allies – to say it loud and say it proud this year. Events like our Soccer for Everyone match and the pride flags that are regularly spotted at the front of the dub show go a long way to show 2SLGBTQIA+ fans and supporters that in spite of the grim news that we are constantly bombarded with these days, we will always be welcome here.
Some decry initiatives like this as mostly symbolic. While representation matters and queer visibility goes a long way – especially for youth who are looking for role models that they can identify with or who need to know that it is perfectly normal to be queer -- 2SLGBTQIA+ communities that are facing a rising tide of homophobia and transphobia need more than just pride-themed logos.
That’s where both Atlético Ottawa and the CCSG are putting our money where our mouth is. Atletico has partnered with Capital Pride, and You Can Play, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion in sport. A portion of proceeds from the Soccer for Everyone match will go to support the Ten Oaks Project, which organizes summer camps for 2SLGBTQIA+ kids. Supporters groups across the league, including the CCSG, have also stepped up, organizing Prideraiser campaigns, making donations to queer organizations for every goal scored by their team. We proudly wear our Prideraiser kit, proceeds of which went to support Rainbow Railroad, a global organization that helps 2SLGBTQIA+ people facing persecution seek safety.
Just as important as supporting 2SLGBTQIA+ initiatives, though, is building an inclusive culture within our supporters groups and within the sport. This does not happen by accident; an inclusive culture is something that needs to be cultivated by leadership at all levels, and I can say that in our supporters groups, we have done a great job.
Coming out as transgender in our society is a difficult process. Having a supportive community makes a big difference, and being a part of a very inclusive supporters group has helped me immensely. Members have shared clothing and accessories and have walked me home late at night after the game. Our watch parties have become a safe space for me, one where I can freely express my gender identity without fear of discrimination or harassment. I’ve always felt welcome in the dub – proudly wearing my red and white striped dress and flying my trans flag. Through gestures like this – big and small, public and low-key - CCSG shows its commitment to building an inclusive supporters culture.
However, the proudest moment for me as a CCSG member was nothing that happened on the pitch or at the dub. On June 9th, 2023, I joined hundreds of community members in a protest against anti-2SLGBTQIA+ hate that turned into a five-hour standoff between community members and violent transphobes. Seeing some of my fellow CCSG members bringing the same noise and energy that we bring to the dub to the streets of Ottawa to drown out transphobic bigots brought an immense sense of joy and helped keep my spirits up during that long and difficult day.
In this spirit, we loudly and proudly proclaim that soccer is for everyone and that even during these challenging times, 2SLGBTQIA+ people will always be welcome in our sport, supporters groups, and community.
Vamos Atléti! See you in the dub!
Skyler Smith is a supporter of Atlético Ottawa and has been a member of the CCSG since 2023. Skyler is a new football fan who was hooked on Atletico by seeing the excitement and energy of the dub during home games. Skyler can often be found cheering on the team and waving flags in the dub.