Katie McCabe of Dublin, Ireland, already in the history books as the youngest woman ever to be named captain of the women’s national team, made history again this summer.
In June, McCabe came out about the relationship she has with teammate Ruesha Littlejohn, as part of an insurance company’s promotion for Dublin Pride.
“I didn’t think twice about it,” she told The 42. “I think as footballers now we’re given this platform to be role models, and if I changed one person’s life and gave them that confidence to maybe come out to their parents or whatever like that, then I’m happy with that.”
So why do it, if not for themselves? “It’s about giving people confidence and for them to be happy in themselves,” McCabe said. And the couple received exactly the response they expected.
“There was no bad reaction,” she continued. “There was no negative feedback.” And McCabe said she’d do it again if she had the chance, thanks to how Aviva handled the #SafeToDream campaign. The launch included a video featuring both Littlejohn and McCabe.
''It's a different story for everyone out there, but your happiness is the most important thing''— AVIVA (@AVIVAIRELAND) June 4, 2019
We’re incredibly proud to bring two of our most cherished partnerships together – Aviva Stadium and Pride.#SafeToDreamhttps://t.co/FkC7sp9eOt pic.twitter.com/NgUDyXKxGY
One of the visual highlights of Dublin Pride was Aviva’s decision to illuminate the stadium that bears its corporate name in the colors of the LGBTQ rainbow flag, which thrilled McCabe as well as many members of Ireland’s LGBTQ community and their allies.
Pleasure to work with @AVIVAIRELAND today - The very first time our iconic stadium & the home of Irish football and rugby has been lit up for pride. Sharing the important message that it is #SafeToDream pic.twitter.com/773UT0Ssuf— Katie McCabe (@Katie_McCabe11) June 4, 2019
McCabe, 23, has been captain since August 2017, when she was just 21. In May of this year she signed a new contract with Arsenal, where she is a midfielder. She told The 42 her WNT teammates, friends, and fans universally expressed support, as did her family back in Kilnamanagh as well as her Arsenal teammates. They reached out via Twitter, and the response was encouraging.
“We got a lot of positive messages,” she smiles. “It was great to see. You get some stick but nothing bad. It was all positive, which I was quite happy with because it was a positive launch and a positive movement. I’m happy it went very well.”
“It just shows Ireland now. That wouldn’t have happened in Ireland a few years ago. Obviously with the referendum and that, everything is changing.” In May 2015, the Irish public overwhelmingly voted to legalize same-sex marriage, rejecting opponents like now retired Gaelic football player Ger Brennan, who claimed at that time it would “destroy children.”
“The world is evolving, society is evolving and I’m happy that as Ireland, we’re moving with it,” McCabe said. “We’re not just staying in the dinosaur age. I definitely think Ireland is more accepting. I know I’d definitely feel comfortable walking around Dublin with my partner. I’m happy about that. You should be able to feel comfortable in your own country.”
And in the four years since marriage equality came to Ireland, the climate McCabe speaks about has evolved thanks to staunch Catholics like Brennan softening their anti-gay ways.
When Brennan’s team won the All-Ireland club title last year, eyebrows were raised when he thanked both the girlfriends and boyfriends of his teammates. And since he has left the sport, he has voiced support for two gay Irish athletes: former hurler Conor Cusak and his brother, goalkeeper and coach Donal Og, now president of the Gaelic Players Association. Og was the first Gaelic Athletic Association player to come out as gay, and that was a decade ago.
“I would say certainly that Dónal Óg’s presence in the GPA and Conor Cusack being involved in player development is a massive plus for equality within the GAA,” Brennan told The Independent today. “Knowing Conor personally he is the ideal sounding board for players who are struggling to realise their own sexuality. It will help the culture.”
Brennan also told the Independent today why he thinks gay footballers don’t come out.
“They don’t come out because there is a fear of getting the piss taken out of them,” Brennan said. “Men being men we take the absolute piss out of one another a lot, but there are never any prejudices, certainly not within a team environment.”
The 42 asked McCabe why she thinks women players can accept each other, and be accepted, and yet gay men who play soccer stay locked in their closets.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve never been in the men’s game to kind of compare, but I get what you’re saying… I don’t know. In the women’s game, everything’s just chilled. I don’t know what it is with the men and people coming out, or why people are so obsessed about it. I feel like men’s footballers are so in the public domain all the time, maybe they just want to keep themselves to themselves. And that’s totally up to them, each to their own. But in terms of women’s football, you don’t have to come in and tell everyone your sexuality. You’re just accepted for who you are and I think that’s the way it should be in men’s or women’s football.”
Aviva Pride supporters and Republic of Ireland internationals Ruesha Littlejohn, left, Katie McCabe at the launch of Aviva Pride where for the 1st time Ireland’s largest insurer is lighting up the iconic home of Irish soccer and rugby with the colours of Pride. #SafeToDream pic.twitter.com/ej01Ipyonl— Sportsfile (@sportsfile) June 4, 2019