Am the target MLS fan: I am a male in my mid-20's, from the suburbs of Everywhere, USA.
Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself.
- Harvey Fierstein
I can't tell you exactly when or how it happened, but at some point hate-speech took over my life. Did someone pass a note around the entire school? Was this some cruel game of telephone? Who decided saying incredibly ignorant shit was suddenly cool? The first time I said the "F-word" I had no clue what it meant, but in time, “fag” and I developed a close personal relationship.
Once profanity became mainstream, hate-speech became the schoolyard slang of kids everywhere. Throughout my adolescence "fag" was tossed around almost as much as the word "dude". The act of doing something uncool meant you were a "faggot", while anything remotely negative was quickly dismissed as "gay". Needless to say, my love of soccer, music and fashion instantly made me an easy target. "Fag" might as well have been my nickname through high school. Every time I heard the word it burned me emotionally. Even as a heterosexual male, it made me feel like less of a human, and less of a man. My refusal to play the part of the macho alpha-male made me marked among my peers. I'd be lying if I said it didn't keep me up some nights.
Straight Americans need... an education of the heart and soul. They must understand - to begin with - how it can feel to spend years denying your own deepest truths, to sit silently through classes, meals, and church services while people you love toss off remarks that brutalize your soul.
- Bruce Bawer in The Advocate
In spite of the fact that I had been bullied, I was never deterred from spreading my own brand of hatred, tossing hateful words around with exceptional accuracy. I labeled anything uncool as "gay", and dismissed those I disagreed with as "fags". Even though, by now, I now understood the meaning of these hateful words, they spilled from my mouth with little rhyme or reason. The majority of the time I was substituting the word "gay" for "bad", never considering that I was essentially saying homosexuality = bad. I often think back to these times and consider all those around me who were experiencing internal struggles with sexuality, and the pain and confusion they must have felt. I had plenty of friends and classmates who were involved in long-term heterosexual relationships before coming out and my choice to stubbornly follow the crowd only added to the perpetual cycle of hatred and pain. Though I tried, passing this pain onto others did little to cure my personal misunderstandings.
It’s important that allies truly become allies. Saying “I have gay friends” doesn’t make you an ally. An ally actually fights for something. Cleaning up your language and pointing out that it’s not right when others use hateful language makes you an ally. This creates a better atmosphere where closeted people – especially those in the sports world – can feel comfortable being themselves.
- Tony Jovenitt
When I was 18, I moved to Soccer City, USA, where I met my second family - the Timbers Army. Any time you're talking about a large number of people, you're bound to run into differing view-points, especially on issues considered political or religious. It didn't take me long to notice that you can find all types of people at a Timbers match. All colors, shapes, sizes, and sexual preferences. With a member-policy like "if you want to be Timbers Army you already are," how can you go wrong? I am proud to say in my many years supporting the Timbers, I've never seen a case of explicit bigotry. I am even more proud to say that individuals in the TA who may say things "in the heat of the match" have always been quickly educated on why hate-speech is unacceptable. Rather than ignoring topics some would like to avoid, the TA has embraced the education of its members. In a complete 180 from my adolescence, now referring to something as "gay" was the exact opposite of cool. In fact, it made YOU look like the asshole. I found myself cutting these words from my vocabulary almost instantly. It felt incredibly liberating to be involved in a community where the only thing that truly matters is supporting the Timbers.
What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it's curved like a road through mountains.
- Tennessee Williams in A Streetcar Named Desire
This past weekend, the Timbers Army unveiled a display in support of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which takes place Friday, May 17. Some saw this as an opportunity to counter Alan Gordon's remarks made during his last trip to Portland. Others saw this as Portland taking another opportunity to be hip and jump on the Robbie Rogers/Jason Collins bandwagon. In reality, this was the Timbers Army expressing what they've always believed - soccer should be enjoyed by everyone. This was a cry to set aside whatever differences we may have and enjoy the beautiful game (yes, you, internet comment sections). There have been comments about how safe and welcoming PTFC matches are for people of all types. If tifo displays like this spread awareness to others that may be curious about MLS, it can only be positive for supporters groups, as well as the league and its clubs. In the few days following the Anti-Homophobia display, there has been widespread support for the Timbers from sources that otherwise may not have even known the club - or the Timbers Army - existed. This outreach can be crucial to the growth of the TA. These values that have been the cornerstones of the Timbers Army since 2001 can also serve as an education and connection with new fans today.
“Football was my escape, my purpose, my identity. Football hid my secret, gave me more joy than I could have ever imagined."
- Robbie Rogers
The Timbers Army should be proud to lead the way on these issues. With over 10 years of equality and acceptance under our belt, we should embrace the opportunity to share our culture through these displays. There may be other supporter groups throughout the league that are still stuck in the same adolescent phase I found myself in during high school. The TA should be proud to educate others on how they too can cultivate an atmosphere that is comfortable for all soccer fans, and not just the young straight male that many view as the prototypical soccer fan. Regardless of issues they may be dealing with in their personal lives, every human deserves the opportunity to escape and experience joy. For many throughout Portland, that joy can be found on match day amongst the TA.
Here in the North End, you are not black or white - you are green and gold.
You are not gay or straight - you are Timbers Army.