“Go Gays:” The World Cup Sets a Record for LGBTQ+ Representation
Our president Megan Rapinoe once spoke these wise words.
“Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before, ever. That’s science, right there.”
While I can’t actually scientifically prove that statement, but what is indisputably true is that queer women, whether as teammates or as fans, are an integral part of women’s sports. And this year’s World Cup is no different.
In 2019, there were reportedly 40 out queer players. This time, there are a whopping 94 (and eight of them are team captains!). That’s more than double from the last World Cup. And that’s only the people who have publicly commented on their identities, which means the real number of queer players is probably much higher. This number is especially impressive when you compare it to the men’s World Cup in 2022, in which there were zero out players.
Despite having so many gay players, FIFA isn’t breaking out the pride flags any time soon. At last year’s men’s World Cup in Qatar, the organization banned players from wearing an armband that was meant to make a statement against homophobia and racism. That armband was banned again at this year’s World Cup, though FIFA has offered some vague alternatives as a compromise (though none of them specifically support LGBTQ+ people). If you know anything about FIFA, not much of this will come as a surprise. After all, the FIFA president left the women’s World Cup in the group stages, while never missing a single match in the men’s tournament. Oh, and the women are still paid way less than the men for competing.
That’s why the impact of having this many out players on the international stage cannot be underestimated. The last few years have felt especially scary, with so much hateful rhetoric happening in the United States and other countries passing laws that directly threaten the lives of queer and trans people. Several countries competing in this tournament do not allow same-gender marriages, and some even have laws outright criminalizing homosexuality. For many many players in attendance, being out is extremely dangerous (something this BBC reporter seemed oblivious to after trying to get the Morocco captain to out people on her team). Being out is still something that is brave, important, and meaningful—because being out as a public figure isn’t just for yourself, it’s also for the people who can’t come out.
I will never forget watching the 2015 World Cup final in a bar, when the broadcast showed Abby Wambach kissing her girlfriend in the stands. It felt surreal in a lot of ways—to have a lesbian relationship normalized on primetime TV, to have it be part of a celebration. I cried, and not just because we won after an extremely painful World Cup loss to Japan in 2011. And in 2019, when the USA had a thrilling World Cup run, we arguably had one of the gayest teams in the history of the USWNT. Seeing people celebrate a team that was so unapologetically queer (see previous Megan Rapinoe quote) truly felt transformative. Queer women who have more masculine gender expressions are often treated with disgust and ridicule outside of the queer community. Even with the increase in LGBTQ+ media overall, you rarely see butch lesbians represented. So to see someone like Megan Rapinoe be beloved by…basically everyone…it’s not a small thing.
Of course, the U.S. team doesn’t have a monopoly on legendary soccer gays. I would be remiss not to recognize the GOAT, Marta, here—who has said this will be her last World Cup. And we have upcoming legends like Linda Caicedo, whose girlfriend posted a text of Linda dedicating a goal to her. And finally (and most trivially), if you don’t know about “they’re lesbians, Stacey,” you’re welcome. In these dark times, these are the things that give me hope. Across the world, there are queer kids who are seeing these players sell out stadiums and bring in millions of viewers on TV because they are the best at what they do. Football is known as the beautiful game for many reasons—for me, all these gay people kicking ass and changing the world is one of them.