One got involved because it’s personal. For another, it was because of where he grew up. For a third, because it’s what it means to be a role model.
For three members of FC Cincinnati, Wednesday’s Equality Night is a special date where they can celebrate the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community and show their support for a cause important to them.
Last month, captain Dekel Keinan, Matt Bahner and Spencer Richey all signed up as members of this year’s Playing for Pride class. After they did, Jimmy McLaughlin also signed on as June opened.
The movement, started by North Carolina FC midfielder Austin de Luz this year generates donations to Athlete Ally from both active soccer players – across every major division in the U.S. and Canada, male and female – and supporters alike. | LINK: Donate Now
While players sign the pledge to donate money for each game played, starts, goals, assists, shutouts and saves, supporters can also donate by matching funds raised by a player or players, or by making a direct donation.
Bahner is in his second season supporting Playing for Pride. His participation hits home.
“It’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart and my family,” he said. “I have a couple of family members, and specifically my older brother, who are members of the LGBTQ community. Seeing all the struggles my brother had to go through growing up, I felt it was something necessary I had to do to help raise awareness as much as I can, for him and everyone else who’s in a similar situation as he is.”
For Richey, growing up in the Pacific Northwest – considered one of the most progressive regions of the country – provided him perspective on the topic, especially as he saw one of his closest friends come out.
“Growing up in Seattle is a big part of why I’m involved,” he said. “It’s a very gay, lesbian, transgender, bi-sexual-friendly city. It’s something that rubs off on you at an early age that maybe other cities in the country maybe aren’t as far along with that support.
“And one of my best friends, a childhood friend from way back, is gay. Having someone close to home who’s had to go through how some people have reacted to it – and how far some people have to go – is something I want to be a part of and be a part of going forward,” Richey continued.
Keinan is a product of one of the most tolerant and forward-thinking countries in the world with regards to homosexuality and LGBTQ issues. Israel prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, so for Keinan, being involved in Playing for Pride allowed him to use his voice and native experiences to help set a positive example and even inspire children who may be too scared to come out.
“I think as a soccer player, even back home in Israel, we have the power to affect – to influence – some young kids,” he said.
“If we can raise our voice and speak about it very openly, it’s enough if we help one kid. We can change the world for him, and if so, we did enough – even if it’s just one kid. When the young generation sees some professional soccer player talk about it and be free to talk about it – everybody has rights and everybody can do what they want – it can change someone forever. We don’t judge anyone else,” he continued.
The American game of soccer has seemingly always been more progressive on social issues. It’s a fact that stands out to the FCC players involved in Playing for Pride.
“I think it’s awesome,” Richey said. “It’s an area that lots of other leagues – basketball, American football, baseball – have a long way to go. And so does soccer, but I think there are a lot of soccer players who have come out and said that they’re gay professional athletes and that’s awesome for them. The fact that our sport can hopefully be an example to others moving forward – that others can be gay or love who they want – is pretty cool.”
Bahner sees first-hand how the soccer community’s support for LGBTQ rights has grown year over year.
“Being a part of Playing for Pride last year to this year – and seeing how much it’s grown – is awesome,” Bahner said. “I don’t know the specific number we had last year, but maybe it was a quarter of the number we had this year. It’s over a 100-plus people from all across the world. I’m really honored to be a part of it and to be in a sport that’s opening the conversation and forcing the conversation.”
Keinan noted that social media has had a big impact on the movement, especially for soccer’s younger fan base.
“That’s great,” Keinan said “You can see the effect on social media: people talk about it, people are exposed to it. It’s great for the young generation to see people very open about it and we don’t judge anyone about it or their sexuality. Everybody has rights.
“I think we are the professionals, we have the power to talk about it and influence kids. We have the power – and not just this, but racism, about violence, about everything – and we have to use our power and I’m glad to do it,” Keinan said.
As club captain, Keinan is expected to lead the team out for Wednesday’s game. On his arm will be a special rainbow captain’s armband. And he’ll be proud to wear it.
“That’s great class from the club,” he said. “You probably saw on social media that they put the rainbow color on the logo. It means a lot for us as a team, and for us as a club. I’m sure some people were glad to see it.”
Bahner noted that those committed to Playing for Pride are having an impact already.
“Just yesterday, there was a kid who came out and we got a message from Playing for Pride that he specifically said Playing for Pride and Athlete Ally were some of the reasons to help get over the line and be comfortable to do that,” Bahner said.
“That’s why we’re doing this: to open the conversation and allow people to be comfortable in their own bodies and allow people to be the people they feel they need to be,” he added.
FC Cincinnati will celebrate the LGBTQ community, it’s members, friends, family and supporters on Wednesday night at Equality Night when the team hosts Bethlehem Steel FC at 7:30 p.m. at Nippert Stadium.