By: Austin da Luz, Former professional soccer player with North Carolina Football Club and Founder of Playing for Pride; Originally posted on LinkedIn.
Please support this year’s Playing for Pride campaign here.
In March of 2016, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act—more commonly known as HB2, or the “Bathroom Bill.” The signing of the bill placed the Governor, the legislature, and the entire state of North Carolina amidst a firestorm of controversy due to its discriminatory nature. It perpetuated harmful stereotypes about the transgender community and made daily life more difficult and dangerous for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
The reaction from the rest of the country was emphatic. Numerous organizations pulled scheduled events from North Carolina, some of the most notable being from the world of sports, including the NCAA, ACC, and NBA. The country’s political discourse was already turning increasingly acrimonious in the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential election, and while HB2 was not the only bill of its kind in the United States, the timing of its passage coupled with the more broadly divisive atmosphere drew considerable negative attention upon North Carolina from the national media.
In response to this growing perception of North Carolina as an unwelcoming and potentially dangerous place for LGBTQ+ people, the idea for Playing for Pride was born. I had watched the prevalence of athlete activism grow over the previous few years, most notably in the NFL, WNBA, and NWSL—and with those examples in mind, I felt a responsibility to push back against the cloud of negativity that had enveloped my home state. My hope was to create a coalition of professional soccer players and supporters from clubs all over the country united in support of the LGBTQ+ community, and to mobilize that coalition to raise money for an organization with parallel values. After first getting some much-needed validation and encouragement from friends with experience in philanthropy and fundraising, I got to work.
The biggest question to begin with was how to bring this desired community of people together. Social media turned out to be the obvious answer, as it’s one of the only places that professional athletes and their fans can interact freely. I found Twitter to be the most effective platform for crafting a common message, promoting dialogue between players and their supporters, and providing constant updates on the progress of the campaign. So, I created the @playingforpride account and would focus all of my outreach efforts there.
The fundraising aspect of the campaign would require a website with secure payment functionality, and ideally it would send donations directly to a selected non-profit. CrowdRise (now called GoFundMe Charity) did exactly that, and I was able to choose the Human Rights Campaign as the beneficiary from their non-profit database.
The last step prior to launch was establishing a donation structure. I wanted the campaign to feel as interactive as possible, with players and supporters working together to achieve a goal of raising $10,000 by the end of the season. I decided the best way to do this would be to have players commit to donating a certain amount of money per game played, goal scored, and assist made. Supporters would then commit to matching a player’s donation each week. This structure created the synergy I was hoping for, with supporters tracking the performances of their selected players, creating excitement and higher donations for good games—almost like a charitable version of fantasy sports.
After launching the CrowdRise page and initiating outreach from the Playing for Pride Twitter account, the grassroots momentum took over. My teammates and I began spreading the word, prompting more supporters and players to join in, with donations rising quickly. By the end of the 2017 campaign we had raised almost $14,000 for HRC over the course of 7 months, mobilizing 40 players across every professional league in the United States and several from Europe.
The success of the 2017 campaign far exceeded my expectations, but after its conclusion I couldn’t help but feel like we were just scratching the surface. The key to taking the campaign to the next level would be to increase player participation. I knew getting more players involved and leveraging their platforms and reach would increase exposure, ultimately raising more money.
After getting feedback from players and supporters who had taken part in the inaugural campaign, I focused on two things in an effort to get more players on board. The first was simple—shorten the campaign. A season-long commitment was substantial, and it was difficult to sustain momentum for players and supporters alike, so I decided to cut the length down to one month. That month would be June, which is recognized as Pride Month across the country. It was a perfect match, and sometimes less is more.
The second thing I felt I needed to do to grow participation was boost the credibility of the campaign. Professional players are constantly being asked to participate in so many different things, and I knew legitimacy could help cut through the noise. When Athlete Ally, an established non-profit that works specifically toward expanding LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports, reached out to talk about ways to collaborate, it was another perfect match and we established a partnership. Athlete Ally helped refresh the Playing for Pride aesthetic, amplified our message from all their own channels, and hosted the donation page on their website while becoming the campaign’s beneficiary.
Participation sky-rocketed, with more than 100 professional players from all over the world joining in both the 2018 and 2019 campaigns, which ran during June of each year. Exposure grew rapidly as players did countless interviews across every available medium about their reasons for getting involved. Three members of the U.S. Women’s National Team were even Playing for Pride as they marched to a World Cup victory in France in the Summer of 2019. This increase in exposure led to exponentially more donations, raising a combined $48,000 for Athlete Ally. But most important was the collective message put forth in support of the LGBTQ+ community, and the reach and influence of that message thanks to so many athletes choosing to stand up and use their voices for something bigger than the game.
Learn more and support the Playing for Pride campaign here.