Joanna Williams Joanna Williams

Why are MPs endorsing Stonewall’s rainbow laces campaign?

A Premier League player wearing Stonewall's 'rainbow laces' (Credit: Getty images)

Our Members of Parliament are not short of stuff to do. There’s immigration – of the legal and illegal varieties – an economy on life support, post-lockdown problems with education, mental health and getting people back to work, as well as the NHS collapsing under the weight of its own waiting lists. Yet, remarkably, ten of our trusted representatives have found time amid their crushing schedules to become part of a charity’s marketing campaign.

The Labour party features heavily, with Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Stella Creasy, Angela Eagle and several others putting in an appearance; Alison Thewliss and Kirsten Oswald from the SNP are game, and so, too, are a number of Tories. But what important cause unites this cross-party group? Hungry children? Homelessness? No! It’s the 10th anniversary of Stonewall’s ‘rainbow laces’ campaign, designed to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport, while shifting overpriced shoelaces and raising the charity’s profile.

Stonewall knows that when it asks for MPs to be filmed doing something silly, there will be no shortage of volunteers

Stonewall knows that when it asks for MPs to be filmed doing something silly, there will be no shortage of volunteers. It seems this latest stunt, headlined ‘Let’s #KeepItUp for #LGBTQ inclusion in sport,’ should have been cleverly edited to suggest our MPs were catching rainbow laces as they were thrown from one to another. Had this actually happened, they would have been literally ‘keeping it up’ for LGBTQ inclusion, and the campaign would at least have made some kind of sense.

Alas, it seems that Westminster’s finest were overly challenged by the whole throwing and catching malarky. While Kim Leadbeater, Russell-Moyle and Creasy all put up a good show, the concept was lost on the rest. What’s left is a cringe-inducing display of MPs looking proud of themselves for performing a trick usually mastered by pre-schoolers. The jaunty soundtrack only enhances the childishness but, when no one involved wants to discuss what the campaign is about, music is a must.

After all, it is not the waste of time or the infantilisation of politics that are the real problems with MPs catching rainbow laces; it’s the cause itself. Talk of LGBTQ inclusion in sport is disingenuous. No sport formally bars lesbian or gay participants and any team that did would be breaking the law. Sexuality is utterly irrelevant when it comes to running, throwing, jumping and catching. England’s women’s football team, the Lionesses, has a number of high-profile lesbians, but the team is – rightly – celebrated far more for its successes on the pitch than the sexuality of individual players.

There’s one thing that’s not irrelevant when it comes to sporting prowess, however, and that’s sex. To state the obvious, men’s bodies are different to women’s bodies. As Sharron Davies explains in her marvellous book, Unfair Play, after puberty the average male is taller, stronger, heavier and has a fundamentally different body shape to the average female. For this reason, in sports such as swimming and cycling, mediocre male athletes take top spot when they transition and compete alongside females.

Trans inclusion might sound nice but when it comes to sport, the message it sends to women is don’t even bother. Men competing as women don’t just have an unfair advantage, they can pose a physical threat to female participants. Women footballers in a Sheffield league are currently boycotting matches after one team put up a transgender player accused of causing a ‘season-ending injury’ to an opponent. For this reason, recent months have seen numerous sporting bodies tightening their rules on transgender athletes.

Stonewall is unhappy that ‘large parts of the LGBTQ+ community still can’t be their true selves whilst attending or participating in sporting events.’ But the consequences for women of trans-inclusion in sport are disastrous. Surely the rainbow-lace throwing MPs know this? If not, they were clearly absent from the Commons earlier this month when Kemi Badenoch, minister for women and equalities, helpfully reminded MPs that Stonewall ‘does not decide the law in this country’.

Given the number of government departments, universities and major corporations that have withdrawn from Stonewall’s various league tables and certification schemes over concerns about the charity’s work, it is astonishing Stonewall still finds MPs prepared to boost its credibility. That so many of those keen to volunteer are from the Labour party suggests women and gender-distressed children may be in for a torrid time should there be a change of government next year.

Right now, if MPs really want to do a good turn and support minority rights, they’d be better off ditching Stonewall and speaking up for Anel Ahmedhodzic. The Sheffield United defender last week refused to wear a rainbow armband. When asked why, Ahmedhodzic told reporters to ‘guess’.

Good for him. No one, whether Premier League footballer or not, should be compelled to betray their conscience in order to pay homage to Stonewall. Yet Ahmedhodzic’s decision has seen him subjected to abuse. Perhaps the time has come for MPs to make funny videos in support of free speech. Meanwhile, Stonewall has turned off replies to its ‘MPs catching rainbow laces’ social media post. It seems that when your arguments are dodgy, refusing to engage in debate is a sensible strategy.

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