A message to Newcastle United's LGBT+ Fans from a Saudi advocate for LGBT+ rights - Our rights are universal so please support us! 

Written by Wajeeh Lion

This is a message to Newcastle United fans, especially those who identify as LGBT+, from a Saudi LGBT+ advocate. (Wajeeh Lion is a Saudi political dissident with political asylum in the United States, he is a human rights activist, journalist, and the first openly Queer Saudi man.)

Newcastle United. Internationally known as a club woven into the fabric of the city, a source of passion that transcends generations. But lately, the black and white stripes feel tarnished. The takeover by the Saudi Arabian state casts a long shadow, and it's a shadow that falls especially hard on our LGBT+ community. Three years ago LGBT+ Saudis accused the Premier League of “pinkwashing” by promoting the Rainbow Laces inclusion campaign while permitting the Saudi takeover of Newcastle.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record is a stain on humanity.  LGBT+ people face persecution, imprisonment, and even the death penalty. This reality stands in stark contrast to the values of inclusivity and acceptance that football, at its best, embodies.

Fans of NUFC need to break their silence on what the 80% owners of the club are doing to the LGBT+ community in Saudi Arabia. Our love for the beautiful game and possibility of winning trophies with Saudi money shouldn’t make us look away from the injustices our community is facing. 

We can't be cheering on a team whose ownership denies basic human rights to a significant portion of its global fan base without taking a clear stand on the oppression LGBT+ people face in Saudi Arabia. 

To NUFC fans who say, what has this got to do with us? (including NUFC LGBT+ groups) we say that the Newcastle United Chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan is a sitting minister in the Saudi government which oppresses us.  

This isn't just about us. It's about sending a message. Football is a sport for everyone, regardless of who they love. The silence of fans normalises the  oppression of Saudi LGBT+ people. If we say nothing,  sportswashing wins.

While we recognised the original reasons behind United with Pride’s decision to maintain their relationship with the club, we don’t agree with them, especially now as it means that relationship means they have not given regular and basic solidarity to the Saudi LGBT+ community.

In 2021, when the takeover was announced, the Athletic reported: that United with Pride, the Newcastle United LGBTQ+ fans group, released a statement saying it “acknowledged that Saudi Arabia as a country is one of the least tolerant of LGBTQ+ and gender rights anywhere in the world” but it hoped the takeover could lead to “a positive influence to improving the conditions for the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia”.

The statement about the Saudi state being “one of the least tolerant of LGBTQ+ and gender rights anywhere in the world” was welcomed by Saudi LGBTQ+ campaigners but the second part of the statement needs to be seriously reviewed. As a Saudi LGBT+ rights campaigner I can assure you there has been no improvement of our conditions after nearly three years of Saudi regime ownership of the club. 

We need to recognise that LGBT+ rights are universal human rights and that advocacy by United with Pride should not be limited to Newcastle. The Saudi LGBT+ community, who are oppressed by the 80% owners of the club deserve and need your support too.

So, what can we do? Raise your voice. Talk to fellow fans, both online and in the stands. Share educational resources about the struggles of LGBT+ people in Saudi Arabia. 

Organise. Reach out to existing LGBT+ fan groups or create one. Show the club and the world that the Saudi LGBT+ community won't be ignored. Invite Saudi LGBT+ advocates to speak at meetings to hear our testimonies.

Be visible. Display rainbow flags or wear pro-LGBT+ attire at matches which reference the Saudi LGBT+ community, if you feel safe doing so. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

Demand action. Contact the club, the Premier League, and even club sponsors. Let them know that our values matter. When the club celebrates ‘official’ LGBT+ days such as Rainbow Laces, insist that the voices of the Saudi LGBT+ community are heard too. In Newcastle, take up specific cases of oppression of our community in Saudi Arabia. Why should the Newcastle United Chairman escape responsibility for what his government does to LGBT+ people? 

We understand some may fear repercussions. But remember, the power lies with us, the passionate fans who make St. James' Park sing. Together, we can be a force for good.

The roar of the Toon Army on Tyneside is muted by the silencing of the Saudi LGBT+ community. We can change this. Let's unite, raise the rainbow flag high, and demand a club that reflects the values of equality and inclusion we hold dear not just in Newcastle but in Saudi Arabia too. 

For the future of NUFC, for the future of football, and for the future of LGBT+ rights, let's make our voices heard.


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