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'Liverpool supporters can't accept a genuine fan feeling unsafe' - Inside the Reds' LGBT+ fan group

11:00 GMT+3 07/05/2021
Liverpool LGBT Kop Outs
Goal has spoken to supporters' groups representing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender fans from around the Premier League, including at Anfield...

In December 2020, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson responded to a gay Reds fan on Twitter, who had spoken about how supporting his football club had helped him deal with his sexuality.

Henderson wrote: “If wearing the Rainbow Laces armband helps even just one person then it’s progress. Everyone is welcome at Liverpool Football Club. Hope you enjoyed the game tonight.”

For Paul Amann, who helped launch Kop Outs, the official LGBT+ Liverpool supporters’ club, it was an immensely important moment which touched a chord with all Reds fans.

"Jordan Henderson is a plain speaking, working class lad who resonates with this city and our fans," Amann tells Goal.

"For someone like Jordan to speak out is an amazing act of allyship that absolutely makes the day of young fans especially, who realise they are welcome as they are rather than having to be quiet.”

While having an England international speak out so clearly in support of gay fans was important, Amann feels it resonates closely with the outlook of Liverpool supporters overall, and plays into the main role played by a group like Kop Outs.

“Liverpool has a history that means fan safety is a key component of our psyche," he says. "That’s partly Hillsborough, but also the politics of the city that cannot countenance a genuine fan feeling unsafe.

“We have been able to work with allies like Spirit of Shankly and The Anfield Wrap to get messages out there among their millions of followers to say what ordinary fans can do to help.

“The take-up of Rainbow Laces was one example – we set up a little stall to hand them out, and I didn’t know if we would get cat-called or shunned. We literally ran out of laces within minutes, we had so many people pleased and proud to get hold of a pair.

“People unwittingly – in the main – have been transphobic and homophobic at Anfield, and it is only through our fellow fans that the volume of those chants and behaviours have declined.

“That has helped realise the ethos of You’ll Never Walk Alone for LGBT+ fans.”

While their interactions with fellow fans have been largely positive, Amann says that the group's road to a close relationship with the club hierarchy has not always been so smooth in the seven years since Kop Outs was first proposed.

“I reached out to other LGBT+ fans on social media, we wanted to become a supporters’ club, an official club, which brings special privileges, including to buy groups of tickets together,” he says.

“This was recognised as something people really wanted, because especially for trans fans, we were very understanding that they had a particular fear of football crowds. The term ‘baying mob’ has been used to me on more than one occasion, people having a quite visceral fear of one person starting and others piling in.

“Unfortunately, the club said we couldn’t be, as official supporters’ groups are only based geographically, and all official groups must have equality embedded in them anyway, so don’t set up a separate one.

“I felt I had been led up a garden path, and the other supporters fortunately listened to me. We pointed out that of the many hundred supporters’ clubs, some of them are in countries that criminalise LGBT+ people. There was no way those countries could effectively host an equal LFC supporters’ club.

“They eventually conceded we were right, and they agreed to accept the formation, and in 2016 at Liverpool Pride we were launched.

“We’re now at over 200 official members with thousands following us on social media, and we have excellent relationships with mainstream fan groups and also the club, who are incredibly receptive.”

While their relationship with the club is still not perfect – Kop Outs still cannot buy blocks of tickets to sit as a group – Amann says things are now much more cordial, with work being done on both sides to improve the match-going experience.

He says: “The club have provided training for all their stewards, so that staff at the club know what to do and know what to look out for.

“They have, for example, been contacted by trans fans who have wanted to attend a match but are worried about safety, and have offered assurances, asked if they want stewards nearby, and to act against inappropriate behaviour.

“This has allowed fans to continue their journey as a Liverpool fan, which is absolutely what any good fan of the club wants to see.

“Equally, our supporters and allies among other fan groups have genuinely stood up and refused to be bystanders. Homophobia is no longer mainstream, and that is testament to an education process and an awareness of politics that we are fortunate to have in Liverpool.”

What does Amann see as being the overall aim for a group like Kop Outs? To him, their work will be done when they no longer need to exist.

“There is no doubt about the internal support from the club, and I just want to see that continue to flourish so that, in time, I don’t want there to be Kop Outs. I want it so that groups behave in a way so that they are the go-to for every fan.”

With support of hugely influential players like Henderson, there is a feeling that day is coming closer.

And Amann feels that if more footballers spoke out in the same way, the impact for supporters would be immense.

“We hope players will not only to use their influence and power on social media, but also to do it in person, in the same way they do with other fans groups. I know player time is a precious commodity, but if they can make time for other fan groups, why not ours as well?”