On March 23, 2016, the North Carolina legislature delivered a rebuke to the city of Charlotte, NC after it passed an ordinance extending protection to transgender people by allowing them to use the public restroom corresponding to the gender they identify with. Known as House Bill 2, or the “Bathroom Bill” the infamous legislation disallowed cities from expanding on state workplace discrimination laws (LGBTQ people were not specifically listed as a protected class in the state legislation).
Reaction to HB2 was swift and costly. In addition to the protests outside of the governor’s mansion and canceled concerts, the National Basketball Association moved the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans, and the NCAA and ACC pulled championship games out of North Carolina. Businesses canceled planned expansion into North Carolina and television and film companies pulled production out of the state.
In the furor following the passage of HB2, North Carolina Football Club co-captain Austin da Luz–who played college soccer at Wake Forest and returned to North Carolina after stints with Major League Soccer teams–attended marches in protest of the legislation, but he wanted to go beyond marching and passively sending checks to organizations that champion LGBTQ causes. As a professional athlete he realized he had a platform and he was determined to use it to support the LGBTQ community.
Playing For Pride began in 2017 as a way for da Luz and some of his friends in the soccer community to raise money for organizations supporting LGBTQ rights. The structure was simple: players signed up to pledge money for each game played, each goal scored, and each assist during the season, and fans were invited to match the donations of their favorite player on the team. During the 2017 season Playing for Pride committed 38 players and raised $13,841 (exceeding the goal of $12,500) for the Human Rights Campaign.
Playing For Pride 2018 adjusted the “season” so players are pledging for the month of June, rather than for the entire season, and the call went out for players to join the squad.
15 players down, one month to go til @playingforpride kicks off. if we don’t hit 50 this year i will retire from activism and you don’t want that on your conscience. the transfer window is open dm me to get in let’s goooooo. ✊️ pic.twitter.com/9984g0ADAX
— Austin da Luz (@austindaluz) May 2, 2018
As of May 1st there were 15 players on the roster, many of them NCFC and North Carolina Courage club mates, plus a handful of players who had participated in 2017. By Memorial Day, the number of players had ballooned to
90110, representing teams from the United Soccer League (the league NCFC plays in), National Women’s Soccer League, Major League Soccer, Premier Development League, National Premier Soccer League plus some US Paralympic and international players. The RSL (Real Salt Lake) Foundation also pledged to match the donations of their MLS, NWSL, and USL participating players, up to $10,000.
This season, Playing For Pride is partnering with Athlete Ally, an organization founded by Hudson Taylor, an All-American college wrestler, who was alarmed by the rampant homophobia, transphobia, and sexism he witnessed as an athlete. He began his fight to end this discrimination by wearing an LGBTQ equality sticker on his wrestling headgear and blogging about his experience of witnessing discrimination in sports. Although he got pushback from teammates and other college athletes, his actions got the attention of closeted athletes, who reached out to him, and the media. Taylor was inspired to take advantage of this attention and founded Athlete Ally.
Playing For Pride 2018 donations will go toward Athlete Ally’s campaigns aimed at “ending rampant homophobia and transphobia in sport and to activate the athletic community to exercise their leadership to champion LGBTQ equality”.
Soccer has had its own issues regarding homophobic slurs aimed at opposing players. The Los Angeles Football Club’s inaugural home match was marred by these chants, which drew a strong response, both from the club and the supporters group. It is inspiring and important to see athletes like da Luz and Taylor, both cis-gendered straight men, use their privilege and their platform to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ people, whether they’re athletes or baristas or office workers.
If you missed the link above, you can donate to Playing For Pride this year here.