(Featured Image Photo Credit: John B Hewitt / Shutterstock.com)
The mornings can get loud outside of Stratford Station. You might hear the buskers battling for attention, a preacher bringing people to the Lord, or the typical chatter that the day brings. The surrounding neighborhood has a Turkish café, a converted warehouse that’s now a bar, and Betty Mayeya.
Mayeya might seem like any other passionate football coach in East London at first glance. Her love of the beautiful game comes through every time she's working with players. She's got a bright smile that also hides a complicated story.
Her mother died of cancer when she was only one, and her brother was three. Her father was pressured to let his in-laws care for the children, but he refused. The family moved to South Africa when Mayeya was five.
That’s when she fell in love with football. It never crossed her mind that she could be a player when she was young because girls were “expected to help at home, do school, and stay quiet.” []
A decade later, she found herself questioning her sexuality. The idea of being part of the LGBTQIA+ community put her in a similar situation. Her culture didn’t permit her to be who she was in the major aspects of her life.
Stonewall FC Is the First Chartered Club of Its Type
Stonewall FC has always had inclusion as one of its top priorities. As a club, they are open to everyone. They’re also the first club of their kind to be FA Chartered Standard.
The club describes itself as LGBTQIA+ and Allies football. []
For Mayeya, exclusion hasn’t always been about gender identity, sexual preference, or even being in a culture where girls were expected to fill specific roles. It’s been cultural segregation.
After moving to London when she was 10, she had her first chance to play football. “I was the only black girl in the whole school,” she said. “When I was in Africa, a lot of [kids] saw me as the English one, the one with the accent who wasn’t born there. So, I was segregated in a way. When I came back to England, I was no longer the English one. I was the African one.”
Mayeya talks about how some kids would touch her skin to see if the color would “come off.” She had to endure numerous racist comments about how it was “dirty” to be black.
Football was her escape. She earned a spot with the Leamington Ladies while getting trials and Coventry City and Birmingham City. Mayeya would eventually play for AFC Bournemouth.
Those experiences with segregation and exclusion led Mayeya to spearhead an effort to let everyone play football.
Football’s Two-Gender Problem Is Naturally Exclusive
Mayeya’s goal with Stonewall FC was to build three five-a-side teams for women and non-binary people that could play competitively across the week. Her first session in 2021 drew 11 people to the pitch.
That group has grown to more than 60 people.
Recognition is starting to follow with those successful moments in football. Stonewall FC won the Football vs. Homophobia Women’s Game Award in February 2022.
More work is still needed to develop inclusion in the beautiful game. In youth soccer, parents are often required to show a birth certificate to establish age. The information on that document then assigns a player to a gender-based team, even if they are transgender.
Clubs are developing inclusion policies, but every season missed or not enjoyed because of misassignment can set a child’s development back compared to their peers.
It's especially difficult for non-binary players. Quinn plays professionally for OL Reign, they also made the Canadian women’s Olympic team for the Tokyo games. They became the first openly transgender and non-binary athletes to win a gold medal, but it also shows the gender rift in sports. []
It’s something even seen at Stonewall FC. It’s the “Women and Non-Binary” players together. Even though this effort is inclusive and a significant step forward, the work from coaches like Mayeya and others shows how much more is necessary for true inclusiveness.
The options are numerous. Football and soccer (depending on where you live) could start teams exclusively for transgender or non-binary athletes in addition to the traditional options for men and women that compete at the same level. A move to co-ed youth development at recreational and travel levels eliminates the need for gender identification.
When everyone plays a game they love, everyone wins.
When people can show others who they are on the pitch, the world becomes better. Teams are strong when they are diverse. Stonewall FC is living proof of that fact.
[] https://thesetpieces.com/latest-posts/stonewall-women-non-binary-fc-manager-betty-mayeyas-inspirational-story/; [] https://www.stonewallfc.com; []https://www.npr.org/2021/08/06/1025442511/canadian-soccer-player-quinn-becomes-first-trans-and-nonbinary-olympic-gold-medal