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Charlton Invicta: How a tiny north Kent football club trailblazed for the LGBTQ+ community

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Original article from Kent Live

Football as a whole has an odd relationship with the LBGTQ+ community.

From homophobic slurs being yelled at Brighton & Hove Albion games, to the lack of any openly LGBTQ+ male footballers in England's top four divisions, there's little voice for queer people in the mainstream.

But, with the help of a well known League One side, a Kent football group are trying to change that.

Read more: The real history of 2000s homophobia in Kent and the fight for LGBTQ+ equality

Enter Charlton Invicta, one of the community trust-funded offshoots of Charlton Athletic, who were a Premier League side as recently as 2007.

Set up as an explicitly LGBTQ+ inclusive side, it was the first team of its kind to be affiliated with a professional football club in the entire UK.

Set up in 2011 as Bexley Invicta, the Charlton Community Trust acquired the team in 2017, giving it an entirely new level of gravity within the grassroots game.

Bexley Invicta were well known to Charlton's community trust before the clubs began working together, explains their Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Michael Seeraj:

"We were keenly aware of the work they were doing, and their ethos fitted in with what we wanted to do as a trust and a club."

Charlton Invicta was born at a tricky moment for football, as 2017 – the year of their incorporation within the bigger Charlton family – also saw a government report on the things sports clubs in the UK needed to do better to tackle homophobia.

One of the recommendations was for big clubs to put their money where their mouth is on inclusion, and actually establish LGBTQ+ friendly teams, so Charlton did just that.

Michael continued: "We came up with a strategy whereby we'd affiliate them [Bexley Invicta] to the trust, and try to provide structured playing opportunities for LGBTQ+ people and allies.

The team have been seen in action against other LGBTQ+ sides, like Millwall Romans

"We want people – anybody who wants to play football to come along – it's an incredible initiative."

It's not just a kick-about either – as the club provides vital chances for players who would otherwise feel, or actually be excluded from grassroots football elsewhere:

"We've got three transgender players, who can't under FA regulations play in FA-affiliated leagues – but we also play in the London Unity league where they actually get the chance to play football with the side.

"Fundamental to Invicta is this inclusiveness – engagement with these disadvantaged communities and underrepresented groups – to provide opportunities for people who may not have opportunities to play otherwise."

LGBTQ+ solidarity in football had been tabled by groups like Rainbow Laces, a part of Stonewall, but Charlton Invicta was one of the first examples of an established, well-known team doing the work from the grassroots level.

Money, investment and commitment to equality, visibility, inclusion and solidarity are actually now being funded from the inside of the game by established clubs.

The team play in the London Unity league – an LGBTQ+ inclusive competition

Invicta train at the same ground as Charlton's professional Ladies and Men's sides, and in 2017 had a session led by the first XI's assistant coach.

Simply put, for a big name in the English game to come out in support of a grassroots LGBTQ+ team in such a public way, was completely unprecedented when Charlton Invicta was formed.


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But now, things are changing – and Invicta have got a local rival, as Michael explained:

"Millwall set up their team last year [Millwall Romans], and this is their first season, so we played a friendly against them in the context of a South London rivalry that's existed for years.

"To think the Charlton LGBTQ+ team would be playing the Millwall LGBTQ+ team a few years ago – it's such a statement on how society is moving on.

"It's a testament to the diversity, inclusion and equality – and that pride in that inclusion reflected in two rival teams."

It's not just about results, league titles or silverware, though.

Charlton Invicta are now playing in the North Kent Sunday League, and have established a second side to get even more players involved.

It's clear that this engagement with the LGBTQ+ community, or anyone who might shy away from their usual Sunday league side for whatever reason, is absolutely core to the team.

"Our players are made up of people from the LGBTQ+ community and their allies… and we [Charlton] have a long history of promoting equality and tackling discrimination," Michael explained.

A Facebook post from the club that demonstrates quite clearly this reads: "We may have won today, but the win is just a very small part of our club.

"We see the win as visible #LGBTQ+ inclusion."

The sentiment here is a powerful statement on the goals of a club who's very existence could make young, queer footballers feel more comfortable to be themselves openly.

Invicta, once unique, are now becoming trendsetters – and hopefully they and Millwall won't be the last sides to give the grassroots, queer game a helping hand.

Original Article