Do the math, says Scotland’s one and only out soccer executive, about the prospect that somewhere in her swath of the United Kingdom, there must be at least one gay player.
“There are obviously gay footballers, many of them. One in 10 of the population [is gay], something like that. Well, there are 11 players on the field...” said Leeann Dempster in a recent interview with the BBC. For just shy of 5 years, Dempster has run the Hibernians. She’s now calling on that closeted gay player, whomever he is, to come out.
“It would be brave,” said Dempster, 48, who came out as lesbian in her 20s.
That’s when she met her partner, Tracey. They’ve been together more than two decades, and in a civil partnership since 2007. Dempster told the BBC she believes Scotland to be a tolerant and progressive land that would welcome a current player coming out.
“I am so proud to be from Scotland because I think it is one of the most pro
gressive countries,” Dempster boasted.
Although she said her life has been “enriched” since feeling able to talk about being a lesbian, even she concedes there will be “a few bumps” for the first player to proclaim their sexual identity as gay.
”There will be people out there finding it difficult reconciling what they are feeling and it’s incumbent on people like me to say ‘follow your instinct and trust in civic society because most folk are good.’”
That said, “You are always going to get people who revert,” said Dempster. “You are never going to get rid of these people. But the vast majority, because of things like equal marriage and the progressive laws here, would be fine.”
PFA Scotland chief executive Fraser Wishart told the BBC he felt any player wishing to come out would receive a “strong level of support” from teammates and fellow professionals in dealing “with the intense public and media scrutiny they would face.”
Although Wishart conceded there was at least “the possibility of the abuse” from fans “given what has happened on the terraces this season,” referring to rampant episodes of homophobia and racism, he remained positive in his outlook.
“There is no doubt that attitudes have changed in recent years and an openly gay footballer would absolutely be accepted by his colleagues in the dressing-room — why wouldn’t they?” he said.
The one and only out soccer player in Scotland’s senior men’s leagues was Justin Fashanu. He appeared in 16 games for Airdrie and 11 more times for Hearts in 1993 and 1994. Fashanu took his own life in 1998.
Another more recent death in Scotland’s LGBTQ community prompted Dempster to speak out. “We lost someone and it made me think about my responsibility as someone who has exposure.”
“I’ve not really talked about it in the media,” she said, but felt it was time to break her silence. You can view her interview with the BBC below or by clicking here.