March 10, 2020 / 3:52 PM / 24 days ago

UK soap opera's gay footballer storyline hailed by LGBT+ groups

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A leading British soap opera storyline about a young gay footballer could help challenge homophobia in sport and encourage players to feel more comfortable in their sexuality, LGBT+ campaigners said on Tuesday.

The “Coronation Street” drama watched by millions follows the story of rising sports star James Bailey, played by actor Nathan Graham, who faces speculation on social media about his sexuality and must decide whether to go public.

“A story about a black, gay footballer will probably challenge stereotypes that people have about people of color and being LGBT,” said Robbie de Santos, director of sport at LGBT+ rights charity Stonewall.

“There are still many people in the sport community who just don’t think there are LGBT+ people in the stadiums with them or taking part in Sunday kickabouts with them.”

Although attitudes towards LGBT+ people have warmed greatly in Britain over recent decades, homophobia remains a persistent issue within sport - and particularly football.

Homophobic chants have been heard in stadiums across Europe and top male players are reportedly unwilling to come out as gay amid concerns over hostility.

Top English clubs are trying to stamp out gay abuse by encouraging fans to report it and with campaigns involving captains wearing rainbow armbands.

In a recent episode of the show, Bailey comes out to his family but struggles to keep the information private when reporters spot the rumor posted online.

Actor Graham said he hoped the plotline would “start a conversation” among viewers.

“Hopefully it will educate people that discrimination is discrimination no matter what it is; race, religion, sexuality,” he said in an interview shared by the show’s team.”

“Coronation Street” has been running since 1960 and shows working-class communities in the fictional northern English town of Weatherfield.

Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org

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