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13th Jun, 2024

Rainbow Owls - How to start an LGBTQ+ supporters group

Chris Ledger formed Rainbow Owls, the LGBTQ+ supporters’ group for Sheffield Wednesday FC, last June, to give a voice to LGBTQ+ fans and to connect with fellow supporters at the club.

From appearing on Sky Sports and running a host of successful anti-discrimination initiatives to an ever-growing membership of over 150 LGBTQ+ supporters and allies, the group is thriving.

With pre-match events before every home game, the group enables LGBTQ+ fans and allies to connect and find a peer network.

However, following a rise of LGBTQ+ hate in football, particularly online, over recent years, Rainbow Owls also plays an important role in working with the club to support the LGBTQ+ community both at games and in the local community.

Ledger said, “One of the biggest positives about setting up the group has been giving people a voice they previously didn’t have. One supporter didn’t feel comfortable attending matches until the group was formed. Now they have a safe space where they don’t have to worry about being their authentic self.

“That’s huge. Our vision was to create a community united by our collective fan identity so that no fan has to feel isolated.

“I’d taken a complete break from attending matches for almost a decade until last April after struggling to accept being gay and hearing racist abuse in the stands at matches. So, on a personal level, Rainbow Owls has enabled me to reconnect with the club and find a community of people connected by our passion for the game.”

Rainbow Owls members holding the group banner before marching in the Kelham Pride parade on Saturday 1 June.

Ledger says the support of fellow LGBTQ+ supporters’ groups has played an important role in helping set the group up for success.

“If someone is considering setting up an LGBTQ+ supporters’ group, I’d say just go for it. Start small, put the basic building blocks in place, and build momentum from there.

“The mentorship of Rainbow Blades, Sheffield United's official LGBTQ+ & Allies supporters' group, and fellow members of the Regional LGBTQ+ Football Supporters’ Group Alliance has been incredibly helpful. For anyone thinking about starting a group, I’d recommend reaching out to local groups to hear about their experience and ways you can support each other. Fans for Diversity can also provide support with funding and advice on how to get started.”

Meanwhile, building a strong relationship with the club has also been critical as the group takes its fledgling steps.

“The support from the club has been fantastic, whether that’s features in the matchday programmes, support on social media, or seeing players getting engaged in awareness activities during visibility campaigns, such as Rainbow Laces and Football Vs Transphobia’s Week of Action.

“During Football Vs Transphobia Week of Action, the club also published an article about trans inclusion on their website, and we had several players engage with the campaign. That was a huge achievement, especially for a new initiative.

“We’ve also been working on joint youth engagement work through Sheffield Wednesday’s Community Programme which has delivered LGBTQ+ workshops in primary schools.”

Rainbow Owls members holding the group banner with school children from Oasis Academy Watermead at Hillsborough Stadium before a designated Football v Transphobia matchday on Friday 29 March.

Nilesh Chauhan, Fans for Diversity Campaign Manager, says that LGBTQ+ supporters groups, like Rainbow Owls, play an important role in the game:

"Celebrating diversity isn't just about tolerance; it's about embracing the vibrant tapestry of humanity.

“LGBTQ+ supporter groups are beacons of inclusion, fostering understanding, acceptance, and solidarity. They provide a haven where individuals can express their true selves without fear or judgment.

"LGBTQ+ supporter groups are vital members of the football family. They offer a sense of belonging and community to fans who may traditionally have felt that football and the matchday experience were not for them."

You can become a Rainbow Owls member by completing their registration form HERE, while you can learn more about the group by visiting their website HERE or following them on Twitter via @LGBT_Owls and Instagram via @rainbowowls6.