The Chicago Fire continued their home unbeaten run Wednesday, downing the Colorado Rapids 3-0 at Toyota Park. But that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about. There was a lot more going on last night, as the Fire held their fourth annual Pride Night in support of the LGBTQ community.
Pride Night was first established in 2014, the season after members of the club’s front office and Section 8—the independent supporters association of the Fire—first marched in Chicago’s annual Pride Parade.
And on Wednesday, the Fire carried on the important tradition of Pride Night. A night meant to remind the Fire community—and fans, players and coaches from around MLS—of the importance of embracing and supporting individuals for who they are.
“The Chicago Fire Soccer Club’s values are built on diversity, inclusion and respect,” Fire COO Atul Khosla said in a club release in June 2016. “[The Pulse Nightclub shooting has] reminded us how important these principles are as we continue to support the the LGBTQ community and celebrate Pride Night once again next month.”
These are beliefs that today—given the divided status of the United States—are more important than ever. And the soccer community, including Fire fans, often fails to embrace individuals of marginalized groups, according to James Bridget Gordon, Hot Time in Old Town’s managing editor.
“I've been the target of plenty of homophobia and transphobia from soccer fans—including Fire supporters,” they said.
Gordon also explained that things like Pride Night can be “a collection of gestures that add up to one big brand activation” for organizations like the Fire. However, they do believe that these gestures can really matter.
“These gestures can really matter,” Gordon said. “I wrote about this more in a piece last year, but having these kind of events and public declaration of solidarity, whatever the sincerity, sets a tone and establishes norms. The people who go to Fire games who are determined to yell The Chant and scream transphobic slurs at opposition players may not change their behavior, but they'll be doing so in direct opposition to a culture that's being created and maintained.”
So where do we go from here? That’s a difficult question to answer. Gordon suggests that stricter codes of conduct with meaningful consequences for bad behavior at matches and other club related events is one place to start. I agree with them. It is impossible to build a culture, of any kind, when there is no sense of accountability for its members.
And developing this accountability is something that should start with organizations like Section 8. As the club’s independent supporters’ association, they should be the ones pressing Fire fans to be inclusive, after all, it’s written in their mission statement that they “will create an inspiring environment for the Chicago Fire organization and its fans.”
It’s hard to feel inspired when you don’t feel welcome.
Gordon explained that there was a time when Section 8 really did care about standing up for LGBTQ individuals. However, they believe that over the last few seasons the supporters’ group has only been going through the motions, and has failed to actually stand up for the LGBTQ communtiy.
“[Section 8 brings] out the Diversity tifo for Pride Night, some of them march in Chicago Pride, but it's just not a priority for them,” Gordon said. “And their lack of leadership over The Chant has been very telling. I'd like to see them renew their old commitments to queer Fire fans. I don't know if they'll ever do it, though.”
Overall, these gestures do matter. But only if they go beyond one night a year. In order to build a culture of support, particularly for marginalized individuals, efforts of inclusion need to happen 365 days a year.
Pride Night is important. But Pride Night should be every night at Toyota Park.