One of the event’s highlights was the presence of the former Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga and Germany international footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger, who has been actively campaigning for the rights of LGBT people in football since he came out in January 2014.
Hitzlsperger shared his experience and views on homophobia in the game in a Q&A session during the opening. He encouraged fans to continue the work already started in leading the fight against LGBT-phobia in football.
“[Speaking about the topic] is so important; when professional football players come out they are making a statement, they are changing society, in a small but very important way” said Hitzlsperger.
‘More players will come out if they know the environment is changing’
“For a player the more signs they get that the environment is accepting of gay players the more likely it is that others will come out” he added.
The event, organised by the international LGBT rights campaign Football v Homophobia (FvH) with the support of Fare, and others, brought together LGBT fan groups from Austria, England, Germany, Sweden and Norway to share campaigning techniques, good practice and develop new collaborations.
The former Celtic FC manager and current Bolton Wanderers manager FC Neil Lennon was in the audience.
Showan Shattak, member of the Swedish LGBT fan group Fotbollsupportrar mot Homofobi, who in March 2014 was the target of a violent homophobic attack in Malmö, also spoke, highlighting the support he received from across the world after the incident.
“I think it is good to meet others in the movement, especially because all of us are facing the same problems.
‘I am inspired to continue fighting’ says Swedish fan attacked a year ago
“Coming here and see what people do, the different ways people are taking action in England, Sweden, Germany, inspires me to continue fighting and make football more open to everyone…It is really inspiring and motivating” said Showan.
The conference programme included break-out sessions on international campaigning, tackling transphobia and setting up LGBT supporters groups.
The day closed with a ‘Question Time’ which gave fans the opportunity to pose questions to a group of panelists from the anti-homophobia movement.
Driven by his own experience Hitzlsperger concluded: ”I want to contribute to the conversation and help make life easier for the next generation because I know what it is like.
“Everything that happened since I came out was so positive that I really want to help LGBT groups and activists.
“They are the ones who dedicate their time to help make a change and I feel that I have the responsibility to help them further their work. This is something I believe in and that is why I support it.”
Through the initiative the former Aston Villa, West Ham United and Lazio player furthered his collaboration with Fare to educate and raise awareness of homophobia.
“It doesn’t takes more than one gay openly gay footballer to solve homophobia. We need to talk about it constantly to raise awareness and educate people,” he stressed.
A report from the event will be published next month to set out steps for campaigners to work with fans in tackling LGBT discrimination.