15 June 2020

Exclusive: Amal Fashanu talks about why ‘Black Lives Matter’ and how ‘we must make it easier for the next footballers to come out as gay’

For Amal Fashanu, black lives do matter, as her campaigning on issues of equality over the years have shown.

And the events of the last few weeks have brought further into focus the changes she craves to be introduced.

Last year, the 31 year-old established the Justin Fashanu Foundation, named after her uncle who tragically took his own life eight years after becoming the first professional footballer to come out as gay.

“I'm extremely proud and honoured to call him my uncle,” she says. “He is someone who back in the 90s dared to be who he was and he's a role model for many people, not just for me.”

And today, as she talks in an exclusive interview with NewsChain, you can sense that the current climate has given Fashanu a heightened momentum as she describes her feelings as the crowds thronged the streets of London ’in a moment of history’.

"It was electric. It was incredible and I was pleased I went, I was surrounded by a lot of different types of people. 

"I was proud to see a lot of white people there, it's not about black versus white, it's all of us together, all lives matter essentially and until white people realise these issues concern them as well as black people [change won’t happen]. 

“It was really peaceful, we were in Hyde Park and then we walked down Park Lane to Parliament, to the American embassy. I feel like I took part in a moment in history.”

Her voice falters, momentarily, as she recalls being moved to tears by the impassioned speech of the actor John Boyega.

“I was crying, it was a passionate moment, you could feel it in him," she added.

"He was crying and you know when you're so charged, so like into something, that he was screaming down the microphone. It was amazing to see everyone clearly getting emotional hearing what he had to say. 

“He's from London, making it as an actor and he's someone people respect. Having him there, talking like that and getting so emotional was a very important moment.

"I saw Sam Smith, Rizzle Kicks and quite a few actors. Celebrities aren’t even going to stay at home for this, no one is stopping it. John Boyega's there, Sam Smith is in the crowd, we were all together.

“Black, white, famous, non famous, it was amazing. It was honestly one of the most amazing days of my life.”

Fashanu recalls when she first heard about the George Floyd killing, 

"I was extremely disgusted. First of all I didn’t believe it, I was like ’how is this happening in 2020?’ But then I saw more videos go viral and I was like, ’oh my god, it’s actually happening’.

"I spoke to a friend about it and we were saying ’this can't be happening, what on earth’.

"A $20 cheque and someone gets killed? It was a lot, it was nerve wracking to think this is where we're at in society and we haven’t advanced as much as we think and people are like 'racism doesn't exist', like really? Really?

"Most of my friends are from privileged backgrounds and most of them are white, but they know right from wrong. Regardless of your race you should know that, education has taught you.

"But if you've been brought up in a family that is more old school, then racism is pretty much ingrained so you don't even know you're being racist.

Fashanu, the daughter of former footballer John Fashanu and Spanish model Marisol Acuna, grew up in Spain and recalls people used to say, 'Can I touch her lips, can I touch her hair?'

"I used to get that in Spain all the time. I was brought up in Madrid and I was the only black person anywhere, in my neighbourhood, in my school. I went to the same school as David Beckham’s kids and I’m telling you I was the only black child and it was an international school, let alone in the whole of Madrid and Spain.

"When I came back to England to study at university when I was 18 it was the first time I had a black friend.

“Kids used to bully me at school and say like when I kiss a guy I'm eating his whole face, and my hair was like grass and brittle and my hips were huge.

“I came here for uni and I was getting more attention than I ever did in my life.”

Her Foundation has a wide remit - aiming to eradicate racism, homophobia and stigma surrounding mental health within football.

And Fashanu has described recent weeks as a ’turning point’, but with the Premier League returning on June 17, does she believe football will ever really tackle racism.

"I don’t know what will happen with football, that's a weird one within itself. Half of the players in teams are black and there’s still racism. In football as well you've got that banter culture so it's a bit of a different thing.

“They're [supporters] trying to offend someone so hard because they love their team so much and the next thing they're saying things they don't even really think. So with football it’s a difficult thing to measure.”

Her uncle’s experience is at the heart of her crusade against homophobia.

June is Pride month and Fashanu has said how ’extremely proud’ she is of her uncle coming out in 1990.

“And me being his family, I obviously feel I need to continue his legacy and instead of sitting back and saying 'Oh that's weird there's no gay footballers', I’m saying we need to do more. So for me it's giving that an extra push.”

Amal when she was three with Justin, left, and her father John (Instagram: Amal Fashanu)

She says she wants governing bodies to set out a road map for how the next footballer to come out as gay can handle the situation and media attention.

"When they [governing bodies] ask what they can do to make the situation better, considering right now there isn't an openly gay footballer, I suggest a road map of what will happen to the player when they come out.

"What will be the steps that they need to take? Who do they need to speak to? Who can they trust?

“This could help someone coming out as they would know what to do because this hasn't happened before, only with Justin, and because he took his own life a few years after coming out, people associate that and say ‘oh if a footballer were to come out now they would suffer so much, he may take his own life like Justin Fashanu’ and that's not the case.”

“I think together we can all create the environment for players to come out but it's all about raising awareness.”

The Premier League kicks off again this week and while Fashanu does not believe they will do anything to commemorate the month of Pride, her foundation has plans in the pipeline.

"I would want them to do something, but to be fair because of the pandemic and the fact they're coming back, everyone will be focusing on the fact there's no crowds. It's going to be a bit weird so I think they haven't had the time to think about Pride.

“But there are organisations like Stonewall, Kick It Out [who are raising awareness] and here at the Justin Fashanu Foundation we're going to try and do something. Whether that's with a banner or a t-shirt or something similar to the rainbow laces.”

Whatever it is, you get the feeling Fashanu will make sure it matters.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox