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Anti-gay-chant lawsuit against Soldier Field heads to federal court as huge law firm takes the case

Winston & Strawn gives major boost to the federal fight against anti-gay chants, with important precedent at stake.

Mexico v United States Final - 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup
When Mexico won the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, some of its fans repeatedly chanted the anti-gay ‘puto’ chant. Now the owner and manager of Soldier Field are being sued by fans represented by a prestigious law firm.
Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

A lawsuit brought by gay and straight fans over the repeated use of the homophobic “puto” chant during the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup at Soldier Field is headed to federal court. Now the plaintiffs are being represented by one of the most prestigious law firms in Chicago.

The case, brought by the fans last year, has been removed from state court to federal court, at the request of ASM Global, on behalf of the Chicago Parks District, Outsports has learned. ASM Global manages Soldier Field, and the Chicago Parks District owns it.

According to a court filing, ASM Global has requested the move to federal court “because this cases involves citizens of different States and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.”

The case alleges that the management and ownership of Soldier Field failed to properly protect LGBTQ fans from repeatedly being subjected to the “puto” chant, despite being warned before the match that it could be an issue. “Puto” is an anti-gay slur used often by fans of the Mexico Men’s National Team and other soccer teams to insult players on the field.

If the plaintiffs prevail in federal court, it will set legal precedent that venues — stadiums, arenas — can be held legally accountable if they do not effectively stop anti-gay chants from taking place. The fans are seeking financial compensation from Soldier Field management and ownership.

FIFA has set up a three-tier procedure when these chants are heard, culminating — if it doesn’t stop — with the abandonment of the match. The fans allege that procedure was not followed and nothing was done to stop the chant, harming their equal access to the match.

“This is a precedent-setting case that will spur much needed change,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has fought and won copious decisions and settlements on behalf of LGBTQ people in sports. “It is outrageous that fans and players are repeatedly subjected to these hateful chants, especially when there are established policies that can and should be implemented to stop them.”

Plaintiffs have now secured representation by the prestigious law firm Winston & Strawn, which will represent the case pro bono. The firm has a history of representing LGBTQ plaintiffs fighting for equality and inclusion.

“It speaks volumes that such a prominent law firm is taking on this battle,” Minter said. “The involvement of Winston & Strawn sends the message loud and clear that venues that tacitly condone this vicious harassment by failing to stop it will be held accountable.”

One of the attorneys on the case is a gay former college athlete himself. John Drosick was out to some teammates when he was the captain of the Villanova men’s tennis team in 2011.

“As a former gay college athlete myself, I know firsthand the experiences of feeling scared to be myself in a sports setting—often due to the words being uttered around me,” Drosick told Outsports.

“The potential impact of this litigation—to rid soccer stadiums from discriminatory LGBTQ+ chants—could continue to push the sports community to be more welcoming to LGBTQ+ folks and to emphasize that the words said at sporting events can impact so many LGBTQ+ folks who should be able to experience the trials, tribulations, joys, and disappointments that occur on sports fields and in sports arenas without being discriminated against.”

Mexico has been ordered to play its next two national-team matches in empty stadiums because fans have continued to yell the homophobic chant during matches, something Outsports has advocated since 2016.