From equal pay to police brutality and LGBTQ+ rights, the queer players of the USWNT are leading the fight for social justice. It’s time to celebrate their activism, says Christobel Hastings
Pride is a protest, so the adage goes. And this year, upon the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, when the LGBT community of Greenwich in New York resisted against a police raid, the parties and parades that unite millions all over the world feel especially poignant. For while the Stonewall rebellion symbolises the birth of the modern gay rights movement, we are reminded that there is still much to fight for in LGBTQ+ life.
This year, Pride coincides with another momentous event, one that you will undoubtedly have seen trending on your social media feeds, taken up primetime slots on the TV, and quite possibly have sparked a fledgling interest in women’s football. We are, of course, talking about the Women’s World Cup.
If you identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, it won’t have escaped your notice that the USWNT, who are FIFA’s No. 1 team and three-time champions of the World Cup, have several queer women in the squad. There’s goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, defender Tierna Davidson, and an engaged couple Ali Krieger, a defender, and Ashlyn Harris, a goalkeeper.
Then there’s Megan Rapinoe, the purple-haired co-captain and star midfielder of the U.S women’s soccer team, who has been the World Cup’s standout player in the tournament, as much for her unparalleled talent on the pitch as for her outspoken views. She’s the leading voice in the USWNT’s federal lawsuit against the U.S Soccer Federation for alleged gender discrimination and violating both the Civil Rights Act and Equal Pact Act, single-handedly responsible for scoring the two goals that ensured the USA’s victory in the high-stakes quarter final match against France, and a defiant critic of the President of the United States, Donald Trump, after rejecting his invitation to visit the White House should the US team win the Women’s World Cup (which she subsequently accepted from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).
So what if a handful of the USWTN players are queer, you might say. There are, after all, 34 out queer women competing in the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup this year. And while it’s massively important to see them proudly embracing their sexuality, it’s also true that it isn’t the defining trait of an individual. It doesn’t help a player net goals on the pitch, either.
Last week, though, Megan Rapinoe highlighted the importance of her sexuality when she was asked whether her contribution to the USA’s victory over France was more significant during Pride Month. “Go gays!” she replied. “You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before. Ever. That’s science right there… For me, to be gay and fabulous during Pride Month at the World Cup is nice.”
“I’m motivated by people who like me, who are fighting for the same things,” the soccer player continued, whose partner is WNBA star Sue Bird. “I take more energy from that than from trying to prove anyone wrong. That’s draining on yourself. But for me, to be gay and fabulous, during Pride month at the World Cup, is nice,” she continued.
On the surface of things, the comment sounds flippant. But given that Rapinoe, like many others, have cited their sexuality as a reason that they have cultivated the strength and resistance to fight for marginalised communities, and reoriented it as something historically associated with shame to joy, and it doesn’t seem so coincidental that the queer players of the USWNT are taking strides towards equality.
Look back at Rapinoe’s past interviews, and you’ll find clues that her sexuality has impacted upon her desire to fight for social justice. In 2016, she became of the first athletes to kneel during the American national anthem in solidarity with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police brutality, while she’s consistently pushed LGBTQ+ rights ever since she came out in 2012.
“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” she explained. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it.”
You don’t have to be part of the LGBT community to engage in social activism, or empathise with marginalised communities experiencing oppression, of course. However, Rapinoe has explicitly maintained that her sexuality, and gay rights advocacy, has always been a driving force between understanding the intersections that run between marginalised groups.
“The more I’ve been able to learn about gay rights and equal pay and gender equity and racial inequality, the more that it all intersects,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “You can’t really pick it apart. It’s all intertwined. God forbid you be a gay woman and a person of colour in this country, because you’d be really fucked.”
Rapinoe does not stand alone in her rebellion. After Rapinoe came under fire from Donald Trump for declining an invitation to visit the White House, teammate Ali Krieger, who has campaigned against online bullying, made her sentiments on the subject loud and clear. “In regards to the ‘President’s’ tweet today, I know women who you cannot control or grope anger you, but I stand by @mPinoe & will sit this one out as well,” she tweeted.
“I don’t support this administration nor their fight against LGBTQ+ citizens, immigrants & our most vulnerable.”
As we watch the US women’s soccer team compete against England Lionesses in tonight’s semi final match, take a moment to celebrate the players footwork, their camaraderie, and the bold, unapologetic way they’re raising the profile of women’s football. At the same time, consider that were it not for change-makers like the USWNT women, and the inextricable way they pair their political beliefs with their time on the pitch, our society would be a lot less freer for future generations.