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Pride and joy: Ireland stars Katie and Ruesha call on more male football stars to 'come out'

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Reaction: Ireland footballers Ruesha Littlejohn (left) and Katie McCabe say they have had nothing but positive reactions since announcing their relationship.
PHOTO: SPORTSFILE

Reaction: Ireland footballers Ruesha Littlejohn (left) and Katie McCabe say they have had nothing but positive reactions since announcing their relationship. PHOTO: SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Reaction: Ireland footballers Ruesha Littlejohn (left) and Katie McCabe say they have had nothing but positive reactions since announcing their relationship. PHOTO: SPORTSFILE

When Ireland soccer captain Katie McCabe went public on her three-year relationship with her international team-mate Ruesha Littlejohn, they were bracing themselves for myriad reactions.

Much to the couple's relief, there has been "zero backlash" as they try to encourage other members of the LGBT+ community to speak about their sexuality as part of Aviva's Pride campaign.

Being role models for their fans on and off the pitch has become a key focus for them as they continue raising awareness for issues facing those in the community.

Speaking about their relationship was a "no-brainer" if it helped other people who were struggling.

"We wanted to use our platform in a positive way and help the LGBT community.

"We are role models but we really wanted to become better role models off the pitch as well, and to be able to help people was fantastic for us," said McCabe.

Scottish native Littlejohn (29) said there had been "only positives" since they came out.

"We weren't really worried or concerned; we are comfortable, we are open, we're out, so we weren't really scared if there was going to be any backlash as we're comfortable. And there's actually been zero backlash," she said.

Arsenal player McCabe (25), from Dublin's Kilnamanagh, said the reaction from supporters had been "very moving".

"Obviously in the last year, I've been on the pitch for Arsenal, West Ham and Ireland, so we are in the public eye a bit more and you're receiving DMs (direct messages) on Instagram and stuff from people you don't know that are telling you their story and how what we did empowered them to come out to their family and friends, that's what the campaign was all about," she said. "We know we did the right thing by doing it."

While they received a positive reaction from fans of women's soccer, they would like to see more male footballers following suit.

They cited the positive example set by Man United star Marcus Rashford who successfully campaigned to get the UK government to provide meals to the country's poorest families.

"I think it's time now, especially as men's football has a massive following. I think it's important when you have a platform to use it.

"Seeing Marcus Rashford this week; the campaign he did for the UK Government to do a U-turn on feeding families all through the summer. So it can be used in a positive way," said McCabe.

"For me, I think it's time now. It's also important to take into consideration that they need to be ready themselves because it is a big deal for a lot of people."

They said the support shown to them by their families, friends and online followers had made coming out so much easier.

A recent survey entitled 'Life in Lockdown' found that 93pc of those in the youth LGBT+ community are struggling with anxiety, depression and stress during the crisis, compared with 53pc of the general population.

The 'BeLonG To Youth Services' study also found that 60pc of them are also struggling with loneliness, and some 55pc have had suicidal thoughts.

Aviva has pledged €50,000 to support the organisation as part of its Pride campaign this weekend. The firm will also light up Aviva Stadium in the colours of Pride and is asking the public to also 'LightUp4Pride'by shining a light in their homes.

Irish Independent