The Rio Grande Valley FC Toros and South Texas Equality Project (STEP) have partnered to host an LGBTQ Pride-themed night at the HEB Park in Edinburg on Sept. 22.

The partnership began forming in May when a representative from the RGV FC Toros presented the idea to the organization’s members. “STEP OUT for Soccer” will be the first sporting event STEP hosts. The advocacy organization is best known for the annual Pride in the Park, the largest event in the RGV that celebrates the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer community, which they started hosting in 2013.

“Professional sports are about bringing people together, building community, and rooting for the home team,” Allysa Cantu, Toros’ marketing coordinator, said. “On Saturday, September 22, STEP Out for soccer and cheer on the RGV FC Toros as they take on the Seattle Sounders 2. We welcome STEP and all of its members to come out and show just how loud and proud their support for the Toros can be.”

Valerie Marie Severn, public relations officer and board member of STEP, said that before agreeing to the partnership, some members of the organization felt apprehensive about the idea.

“Some of us at first were like, soccer, sports, is this something that we should do?” Severn said. “Just because there has always historically been a lot of homophobia attached to soccer in Latinx culture.”

The chanting of one particular Spanish homophobic slur (“puto”) is, unfortunately, a tradition in the Latinx soccer culture. This topic has received a lot of attention in recent years, reaching its peak in notoriety during Mexico’s national soccer team games in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Teams and stadiums have made an effort to stop the homophobic chant and be more welcoming to LGBTQ fans. Pride-themed nights have been hosted by a majority of the Major League Soccer teams this year, according to Cyd Zeigler of OutSports, an LGBTQ Sports centered blog. Some stadiums are making announcements at the beginning of matches that that chant is unacceptable. There have also been notices posted across the stadium, bringing awareness to this issue and letting fans know that they will be ejected from the stadium if they are caught chanting it.

“These things actually seem to help curve the use of the chant,” Zeigler told Neta in a phone interview. He notes that unfortunately there are still some fans across Mexico and the US that continue with the chant. “People want to be able to disparage gay people at will, and they don’t like it when their homophobia is called homophobia. They don’t like being called homophobic, even when they are.”

But the sport’s history of homophobia became a key reason to why STEP decided to move forward with the Toros collaboration. They recognized that there should be a safe space for LGBTQ fans that are attending soccer games.  

“That’s an important reason why we should get involved with it,” Severn said. “We are partnering for visibility. We are feeling that we— as the LGBTQ community— we belong in these spaces. Whether it’s a sporting event or any other type of event, this is one of STEP’s first chances where we are trying to visually step out in the community and partner more with other organizations to show our presence more.”

STEP Out for Soccer will be the second time a sporting event or team has had a Pride-themed gathering in the Valley. In 2016, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, along with several organizations, one of which was the Student Equality Alliance, teamed up for a baseball game that was dubbed “Pride in the Ballpark”.

STEP Out for Soccer will be held on Sept. 22 at HEB Park in Edinburg. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling (956)245-8899 or (956)414-9401 or at the stadium. The first 300 ticket purchases include a rainbow scarf.

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