June 16, 2014 at 5:35 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Anti-homophobia campaigns arrive amid World Cup hoopla
FIFA World Cup, Brazil, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Marcello Casal Jr. of Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

LGBT rights advocates in the U.S. and around the world have launched a series of campaigns and other initiatives during the World Cup that are designed to combat homophobia in soccer.

GLAAD last week released two videos in English and Spanish that show same-sex couples celebrating the end of a match with members of their families under the banner “The Game We Love Has No Room for Hate.” The campaign also contains the hashtag #StoptheSlurs.

“Yes to winning, no to homophobia,” says GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz in the video.

A YouTube campaign titled #ProudtoPlay features Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins, Michael Sam of the St. Louis Rams, Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy and other openly LGBT athletes and allies including late South African President Nelson Mandela and President Obama.

Gay Brazilian Congressman Jean de Wyllys appears in a Google campaign titled “Play with Pride” or “Jogue Com Orgulho” in Portuguese. The ad in which he appears was posted online on June 4.

“Sport should give us pride and never should come with discrimination or exclusion; regardless of ethnicity, social status, gender, sexual orientation or any other type (of factor,)” says Wyllys.

The LGBT Federation of Argentina last week unveiled its own campaign designed to combat homophobia in soccer. Retired soccer player Sergio Goycochea and Argentine sports reporter Juan Manuel Varela are among those who appear in the “Fair Play” spots that feature clips of fans using homophobic and racist chants to taunt players from opposing teams during games.

“We are launching this campaign that is an attempt to reclaim the best values of sports in general, and in soccer in particular, of inclusion, solidarity and equality,” said LGBT Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón.

FIFA rules specifically ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender, but homophobia remains pervasive in professional soccer.

A video posted to YouTube shows fans calling Spanish soccer player Diego da Silva Costa a “viado” or “faggot” in Portuguese during the match between Spain and the Netherlands that took place in Salvador on June 13.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis noted in a letter to FIFA President Joseph Blatter that T-shirts for sale in Brazil before the World Cup began in São Paulo on June 12 referred to retired Argentinian soccer star Diego Maradona as a “maricón” or “faggot” in Spanish and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo as “gay.”

“As you can imagine, hearing this type of anti-LGBT language makes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and our families and friends not only feel insulted, but unsafe,” wrote Ellis in her letter to Blatter. “As the world converges in Brazil, we want to ensure World Cup is a safe and celebratory event for everyone.”

Brazilian groups issue LGBT ‘manifesto’

Advocates also hope to use the World Cup to highlight the anti-LGBT discrimination, violence and persecution that continues to take in place in many of the countries that qualified for the quadrennial event.

Homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran and portions of northern Nigeria. Consensual same-sex sexual acts remain illegal in Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last June signed a law that bans so-called propaganda to minors amid an ongoing crackdown of LGBT rights in his country. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian bill into law that punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison and bans anyone from officiating a gay union, “amorous” same-sex relationships and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

Walter Tróchez is among the dozens of Honduran LGBT rights advocates who have been murdered since a 2009 coup toppled then-President Manuel Zelaya and forced him into temporary exile.

Gays and lesbians can legally marry in Brazil, in spite of rampant anti-LGBT discrimination and violence that disproportionately affects transgender Brazilians of African descent. A report from Grupo Gay da Bahia, a Brazilian advocacy group, documented 313 anti-LGBT murders in the South American country last year.

Grupo Dignidade and nearly 20 other Brazilian advocacy groups in February signed what they described s a “manifesto in respect of LGBT people during the 2014 World Cup” that urges qualifying countries to guarantee the rights of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. It also cites Brazilian government statistics that include 9,982 “homophobic human rights violations” in 2012.

Members of the groups plan to protest outside the matches between Iran and Nigeria and Algeria and Russia that are scheduled to take place in Curitiba on Monday and June 26 respectively.

“We will march together, in a democratic and peaceful manner, through the streets of Curitiba to demonstrate and give voice to our cry for help,” say the groups in their February announcement. “It is essential to make clear that we do not condone acts of violence, rioting or vandalism, nor are we against the football teams or the people of Iran, Nigeria, Algeria or Russia. Our intention is to denounce homophobia in the world and demand measures to curb it.”

Paulón last week reiterated his group’s position that this year’s World Cup is “an extraordinary opportunity” to highlight the “discriminatory situations that habitually occur on the soccer field” in Argentina and other countries.

“You have to leave the (soccer) fields and also reach supporters in the stands to forcefully combat discrimination — not only towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people.”

Russia is slated to host the World Cup in 2018.

The quadrennial sporting event is scheduled to take place in Qatar, which criminalizes homosexuality with up to three years in prison, in 2022.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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