It has been no secret that the sports industry is still a relatively homophobic place. It’s a sad truth that still exists today. American football tends to have the biggest challenge with it.
However, today I discovered something pretty fucking fantastic that made my entire day. American football may struggle with the LGBTQ+ community, European soccer is much more supportive to our community.
One of my favorite teams in soccer is Arsenal. A few guys from work and I each support a team and try to keep up with our teams. Admittedly, I partly chose Arsenal because they have two fantastic players who are also Albanian like myself, Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi. The team is pretty awesome, and not just because of the Albanian players.
Earlier tonight I was checking out Arsenal’s Instagram page when I saw this on their IG story.
Not only did Arsenal change their background color to the Pride rainbow, but they publicly showed they are being inclusive and welcoming the LGBTQ+ community. They even created the hashtag #ArsenalForEveryone. I almost lost my shit in excitement!
But wait, it gets even better! I saw a picture of Granit Xhaka wearing the Pride flag around his arm on his Instagram page.
Let me explain the major importance of this action and it’s far reaching impact.
This all directly impacts me and is why I am so excitedly typing away at this blog even though I had other plans. I am both Albanian and gay. I love being both and am proud of both parts of my identity.
I can tell you from firsthand experience that these two things usually do not intersect positively. Albanians are notoriously homophobic and transphobic. LGBTQ+ folks usually stay closeted and live their lives as a lie. Those who do come out are often met with either violence (from family or the public), become disowned, forced into heterosexual marriage or a blend of the three.
I have spent the last several years specifically focusing on giving the Albanian LGBTQ+ community visibility because I am both out and vocal about it. I know how hard it is for so many of us and have tried to give many LGBTQ+ a voice and someone they can connect to so they are not alone.
I have been incredibly fortunate that my blog and social media has been able to reach out to many LGBTQ+ Albanians who have felt to isolated and alone because they cannot be their true selves where they currently are.
This specific blog post Gay Shqiptar?! What?! was one I wrote to show what life was like for me as a young gay Albanian man. Many people resonated with my experience because it was our shared experience.
I also created this video for all of the LGBTQ+ Kosovar Albanians celebrating their very first Pride:
At the end of the day, I am just me though. I have my small part of the world and I do what I can. I am not on stage in front of the entire world.
When Granit Xhaka put on that rainbow flag on his arm, every single LGBTQ+ Albanian who saw that image, watched him play or heard from a friend about it, felt supported. A world famous Albanian soccer player showed the entire world that he supports our community. Without words, he told people that they are beautiful they way they are and is there for them.
This weekend, and going into the near future, people who are suffocating in silence may have had a moment where they could finally breathe. The times are changing. Attitudes are slowly starting to change.
I don’t know you personally, Granit Xhaka, but you are my Albanian brother. Thank you (and Arsenal) so much for showing your support! Faleminderit shume, vlla!