The award-winning Rainbow Laces campaign is returning this year with an expanded lineup,
In their initial statement, organizers said the events of the past year, such as the coronavirus pandemic and protests against systemic racism across the world, set the tone for the new campaign.
“During a year which has exacerbated challenges for LGBT+ communities, sport has become even more important to keep up spirits and provide a vital support system so we can continue to be there for one another,” Maria Munir, Stonewall’s Associate Director of Community Engagement said in the statement.
The U.K.-based LGBTQ rights organization Stonewall sponsors the Rainbow Laces campaign, which is entering its fifth year. It kicked off Nov. 26.
This year, new laces will add to the more than 1 million that have been distributed over the last 5 years. Designs for specific LGBTQ identites join the traditional rainbow design. Lesbian, bi, pan, ace, trans and non-binary laces are available.
Teams, clubs and individual athletes in the U.K., and increasingly around the world, are tightening their game shoes in Rainbow Laces and showing their support. Many participating athletes are saying this small detail is making a big difference.
One longtime participant, Commonwealth boxing champion Kristen Fraser, said in a recent interview with Sky Sports that the visibility of the laces has opened up needed dialogue. “It takes time to change prejudice and assumptions but particularly in sport. Rainbow Laces go a long way to do that,” she said to Sky Sports’ Jon Holmes, “People ask me about it all the time if they haven’t seen them before in my shoes.”
Two years ago, Fraser won the Commonwealth bantamweight championship with shoes tied in rainbow laces. Her victory over Malawi Ellen Simwaka made her Scotland’s first ever women’s boxing champion.
Fraser said authenticity and visibility have fueled her success in the ring. She wants to earn a world title shot, and plans to enter that bout with her rainbow laces. She feels being true and being seen are making sports more accepting.
A Stonewall poll from last year supports this view. It found over 65 percent of people in the U.K. think it’s important to challenge anti-LGBTQ language at sporting events. On the other side, 43 percent of LGBTQ respondents said public sporting events are not welcoming spaces.
“It’s important just to have that conversation in sport. There are people who come into a gym who are LGBTQI and they may not feel comfortable,” Fraser told Sky Sports. “It’s about being open and saying, ‘you’re welcome in this environment’”.