Athlete Phuti Lekoloane is a goalie in the third tier of South African football and Africa’s first openly gay professional male footballer.
Though the soccer player loves the sport, he says that stereotypes towards being openly gay has hindered his career.
Speaking with the BBC, Lekoloane shared his experiences on and off the field.
“The stereotype that people have around gay people in football is that gay people are sissies, they are soft, they are not manly. And the other thing is the question of the changing room. What happens in the changing room”.
It’s these types of stereotypes that keep other potentially gay or LGBT+ athletes from stepping out of the closet. In most African countries being gay is a crime and stepping out on the field as an openly gay athlete, Lekoloane has faced his share of discrimination.
“I was playing in Jo’burg, in the ABC league in Gauteng, and we lost a game and a player said to the whole team, ‘We only lost this game because we have a sissy in the team.’ And that didn’t well with me. I cried on that day, but I had to move on because I’m a professional. I feel that for being out there and being openly gay has held my career back because most of the teams that I go to have rejected me so many times. They overlook my talent and get more worried
about my sexuality”.
Lekoloane has since joined the Tornado FC, and says that his teammates found no issue with him being gay. Speaking of how an understanding between him and his coaches eventually trickled down to his teammates, where they have been able to find equal ground.
Lekoloane does however still face disparaging and homophobic comments from the opposing teams, but he has found a way to turn their hatred into motivation. He says he is trying to break stereotypes to pave the way for other gay players to come out.
His message to them is to celebrate who they are.