Arsenal’s strong response to homophobic abuse has been praised by the club’s official LGBT+ supporters’ group, whose co-chair warned it will take “several years of effort” to end such issues in football grounds.
Two supporters were ejected from the Emirates Stadium during Saturday’s Premier League game against Brighton, with Arsenal promising to take the “strongest action possible”.
The fans were taken out of the ground after abuse was reported to stewards, with investigations under way to identify any further culprits.
The action of the club has been greeted with a positive response from Gay Gooners co-chair Carl Fearn, who has been working closely with Arsenal on LGBT+ awareness.
“The speed and direct nature of the statement is very pleasing,” Fearn told the PA news agency.
“While we worked with the club yesterday on the statement, we wanted to make sure it came from the club and that we’re not seen as the ‘gay police’ as it were, because that just opens us up for all sorts of abuse .
“We work efficiently and quietly with the club to get these things out there and the club were very good.
“We’re all football fans together at the end of the day. Once that final whistle is blown – yes, we lost – but be a fellow football fan, we shouldn’t hate each other.”
Fearn was in attendance on Saturday, watching on from one of three executive boxes provided by the club with a view to encouraging people to attend games, especially trans and non-binary members of Gay Gooners.
When asked how he felt hearing homophobic abuse, he said: “For me and a lot of members of the group it’s just the almost exasperation, and then there’s anger that people still say these things.
“We just basically say, ‘fight the good fight’. We just continue. We just continue trying to get the message across that we’re Arsenal fans just like any others and we have every right to attend the games without fear.”
Earlier this month an Arsenal fan was given a three-year banning order for shouting homophobic abuse during the reverse fixture with Brighton at the AMEX Stadium on October 2.
“They have made it very clear that they will not tolerate it if somebody is basically found guilty of it,” Fearn added on the club’s recent responses to homophobic issues.
He also believes restorative justice could be a way forward, abusers sitting down with the relevant clubs and supporters’ groups to be educated on why chants and gestures are offensive.
But Fearn also knows the battle to stamp out abuse of LGBT+ supporters will be a long one.
He said: “It’s going to take several years of effort. Our primary aim is to make football a good, safe experience, make sure that people are all treated equally, and nobody’s treated any differently because of who they are. But I can see it for several years.
“It seems we just have to keep chipping away at the mineface basically. I’m very particular in saying ‘look, we’re football fans’. We have as much right to go to a game as anybody else.”