UPDATE MARCH 27: As if to further emphasize support for their LGBTQ fanbase, the Orlando Pride showed up for their match against the North Carolina Courage yesterday with the entire roster wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the word “gay” as they disembarked from the team bus. The Pride tweeted out video with the caption: “Arrived. With a purpose.”
Based on the players’ support for the Black Swans immediately after the incident, there was no doubt they’d be on board. As the above-mentioned tweet indicates, it appears players, team, and fans are all on the same page.
Original Report: As a team that has employed luminaries like Megan Rapinoe, Ashlyn Harris, and Ali Krieger, the Orlando Pride are one of the most LGBTQ-friendly teams in all of sports.
So it was a bit of a surprise when the Pride ran afoul of their LGBTQ fan group, Black Swans Drinking Club, during last week’s Challenge Cup opening match when Exploria Stadium security confiscated a banner from their section with “gay” written in giant letters.
The banner was created as a response to Florida’s new controversial legislation pertaining to the discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools. According to a tweet posted on the Black Swans account, Pride staff told the club that the banner was removed for “political reasons.”
After pushback from their players and a meeting with the fan group, the Pride and Black Swans issued a joint statement on Tuesday acknowledging that taking down the banner was a “mistake” and “the organization wrongly focused on signage policies and procedures, instead of allowing the important meaning of this message.”
While the banner was undeniably a political response to the bill, the incident and its aftermath demonstrate the importance of paying attention to context when enforcing this particular stadium policy.
Considering the bill in question would curtail discussions about the LGBTQ community among younger students, the “gay” banner functioned as the Black Swans’ assertion that if government tries to erase us in one setting, we will announce our presence everywhere.
Seen in this light, the banner was not merely taking a political side. It was an argument for LGBTQ existence, which should have been especially powerful in a stadium with a section of 49 rainbow seats to honor the Pulse massacre victims.
We at Outsports make it a point to acknowledge pro sports teams for celebrating Pride and making sure our community feels welcome in their fanbases. But we also remember that LGBTQ Pride began to commemorate a civil rights movement fighting back against the forces of oppression.
In many respects, unfurling a “gay” banner to push back against what critics dub the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is just as much a celebration of Pride as flying a rainbow flag in June.
After listening to the Black Swans, it’s clear the Orlando Pride realized the signs were an affirmation of LGBTQ pride. Their decision to allow the fan group to hang the banner at future matches is commendable.
When sports teams enforce overly broad and rigid “no politics” policies, they inevitably backfire. Two years ago, such a hardline approach led to rainbow displays being banned for a UEFA match involving Hungary, because they would “contravene its rules about political and religious neutrality.”
Because it’s apparently acceptable to be neutral about whether our rights should, you know, exist.
Thankfully, the Pride chose not to go down that patt. Determining how to handle political demonstrations in the stands can be a tricky subject, but this was an instance where the Pride chose to allow LGBTQ people to stand up for their rights.
It took a few days to get there but in the end, they lived up to their name.