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Opinion

Newcastle United Takeover – Between A Rock and Hard Place

2 months ago
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United with Pride (UWP) is the LGBTQ+ supporter’s group for NUFC.

To say that the past few days for UWP has been a rollercoaster would be an understatement.

First and foremost, we are supporters of Newcastle United (a fact that some seem to forget). However, we also represent the LGBTQ+ community and we recognise that that comes with a responsibility.

Following the Newcastle United takeover by a Saudi led consortium, it has to be said, it’s put us between a rock and a hard place. A damned if we do or damned if we don’t situation – celebrate the end of 14 LONG years of stagnation, two relegations and new owners, which now actually use the word ‘ambition’, or recognise that the major shareholder is tarnished with an appalling human rights record?

So, what should we do? The watch word here has to be diplomacy?

Whilst we recognise that [LGBTQ+] human rights abuses are abhorrent; it must be recognised that UWP is not Amnesty International nor Human Rights Watch (both respectable organisations who are right to call out atrocities against the LGBTQ+ community). UWP is a collection of dedicated Toon fans who have volunteered to work to make St James Park a more inclusive place to watch football. It appears, in the past few days, an (unfair) weight of expectation has been placed on our shoulders, which at times has been quite stressful.

Our main weapon in our fight against discrimination is visibility. Is it wrong to ask the new owners to continue this message as we have done previously under the United as One brand? With success comes greater visibility. Should we not take advantage of this to show the world that SJP is open to everyone by continuing to fly our Rainbow flag at the start of games?

Human Rights Watch wrote a report called ‘Audacity in Adversity’ which highlights the struggles LGBTQ+ activists have in the Middle East and North Africa region. Parts of it is harrowing and it’s a grim read in places. But it also highlights the problem such activists face in getting recognition from western media.

Quote from the report:

Several LGBT activists from the Middle East and North Africa expressed frustration, in conversations with Human Rights Watch, at one-dimensional international media coverage portraying the region as a black hole for LGBT rights. Such coverage fails to recognize the agency of LGBT activists from the region, or renders them completely invisible. “We don’t want the image anymore of just being victims,” an activist from Algeria, told Human Rights Watch. “We want to speak about reality, speak about violence, but also to [show what is] positive.”

Our question is simple; do we not owe it to these activists to continue in our role to carry on our displays of inclusion which will, in time, be seen by greater audiences across the world? Isn’t this a greater responsibility not just for us but for all LGBTQ+ supporter’s groups across the UK to do their best to make themselves as visible as possible?

Pride in Football, the umbrella organisation for UK LGBTQ+ supporter’s groups, released a press release condemning the directors fit and proper test process. We get that and, in a way agree, however, let’s not ignore the obvious; LGBTQ+ supporter’s groups have no say in who owns their club and, currently, nor do any supporters groups. We play with the cards we are dealt (we also can’t help it that we are now potentially holding a royal flush!).

We must also get some factual context. One of our members served out in Saudi Arabia with the RAF between the gulf wars, then on return, got kicked out for being gay! This says two things; firstly, we must look at our own record on LGBTQ+ rights and secondly, things can change. The LGBTQ+ community can now actively serve in the British armed forces.

Incidentally, the same report from Human Rights Watch also states that many of the laws used to persecute the LGBTQ+ community in the (MENA) region date back to laws put in place by previous colonial powers. And which colonial powers were these? The French and the British!

So, what do we [UWP] do, break off links and pack up and go home and enjoy the future success of our rejuvenated club, or continue doing what we did before, flying our flag at matches, engaging with the club to promote inclusion (which includes holding them to account on such issues) and making SJP a safer and more inclusive place to watch football? We make no apologies for trying to continue to do the latter.

We don’t believe that we can make a sovereign nation change its ways overnight but I’ll leave with a quote from what is now, hopefully, a relic of the past: “We don’t demand a team that wins we want a club that tries.”

We will pledge to try, we will continue to be visible, we will support the Toon and the LGBTQ+ Community, we are United with Pride.

Pete Hocking – Committee Member for United With Pride

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