The world of sport may still be a hostile place for many LGBTI athletes.
With its long history of homophobia, there are precious few openly gay men in the entire football industry, despite efforts to encourage tolerance and equality in sport.
But this year, there are at least 14 openly gay or bisexual women playing in the Canada World Cup – that’s exactly 14 more than the men’s World Cup last year.
Meet some of the footballers who are scoring a goal for LGBTI rights:
1. Nadine Angerer – Germany
Nadine Angerer is a 36-year-old German player and captain of Germany’s national team.
In January 2014 she won FIFA’s World Player of the Year award – making her the first goalkeeper, male or female, to do so.
In 2010, she came out as bisexual. ‘I am very open about this, because I am of the opinion there are nice guys and nice women,’ she said. ‘Besides, I find it totally silly to have a general definition. I see no problem for me to come out of the closet. This is nothing new for me, so I can deal with the issue in a totally relaxed manner.’
2. Lisa Dahlkvist – Sweden
Since making her debut with her national team in 2008, Swedish player Lisa Dahlkvist has accrued more than 80 caps.
But she’s been surrounded by football all her life, as the daughter of accomplished professional footballer Sven Dhalkvist. The 28-year-old midfielder is an out lesbian, having come out publicly back in 2008.
3. Katie Duncan – New Zealand
This New Zealand player recently moved to Switzerland to be closer to her wife, former Football Ferns player Priscilla Duncan. Her third FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign, she is taking the Football Ferns to Canada as vice-captain.
4. Nilla Fischer – Sweden
Nilla Fischer is a Swedish player known for her strong competitive spirit.
She has a passionate commitment to gender equality and gay rights, saying: ‘As an athlete, I wish to prevent all forms of discrimination within sport, such as sexism, homophobia and racism. But above all, I wholeheartedly support everyone’s right to practice sports. For me it’s a human right!’
The 30-year-old married her girlfriend Maria Micheala in 2013, and was named ‘LGBTQ Person of the Year’ in 2014 in Sweden.
5. Isabell Herlovsen – Norway
Isabell is a 26-year-old Norweigan player, the daughter of famous international footballer Kai Erik Herlovsen.
She came out as a lesbian publicly in July 2011, but was out to friends and family in her teens, saying it felt natural to her and she wanted to be true to herself. She thinks it’s important to be open publicly. At the age of 16 years and 348 days she became the youngest player at a UEFA European Women’s Championship in 2005, and became the youngest scorer only three days later.
6. Michelle Heyman – Australia
26-year-old Michelle Heyman is a striker in the Australian W-League. She was the winner of the Golden Boot award for most goals, and winner of Player of the Year in the W-League 2009. Out and proud, she has said there was no big revelation of her sexuality – she has never been in the closet.
7. Hedvig Lindahl – Sweden
Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl plays for Chelsea and was named Swedish women’s goalkeeper of the year in 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2014. With over 100 caps for the national team, her career shows no signs of slowing down. She married wife Sabine Willms in 2011, and the two have a son who was born in 2014.
8. Erin McLeod – Canada
32-year-old Erin McLeod is a Canadian national player and Olympic bronze medalist.
The goalkeeper’s relationship with girlfriend Ella Masar was openly announced on social media, and since then she had used the platform to spread a positive LGBTI message.
She writes on her blog: ‘As I get older I realize how important it is to be true to exactly who you are – and to have the courage to be just that – so that all young people can grow up in a world that is accepting of all people – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or heterosexual.’
9. Megan Rapinoe
Born in California, Megan is a Seattle midfielder and Olympic gold medalist best known for making history at the London 2012 games.
When she scored an ultra-rare ‘Goal Olimpico’ by scoring directly from a corner, she became the first woman or man ever to do so at the Olympics.
Megan came out as a lesbian in 2012, saying: ‘I just felt like I was leaving something out and omitting something and not being 100 percent truthful. Even though I never lied about anything.
‘The world is sort of presumably straight, so I think I wasn’t wanting to be assumed [to be straight] or have people believe that. I’m obviously very proud of who I am. I couldn’t be happier with who I am.’
Since then, she has been an advocate for a number of LGBTI organizations that support young people and aim to end homophobia in sport.
10. Trine RÃ¸nning – Norway
This 32-year-old Norwegian player has won over 150 caps since making her debut for Norway’s women’s team in 1999. This year, she is leading the team out as captain for the first time, saying it is ‘an indescribable feeling’ for her childhood dream of being captain of her country to come true.
She married fellow footballer Kristin Blystad Bjerke in 2009, shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in Norway.
11. Lianne Sanderson – England
Born in Watford, Lianne joined Arsenal in 1997 as part of their youth program, and has since played for everyone from Espanyol to the Boston Breakers.
There, she and fiancée Joanna Lohman became the first openly gay engaged couple competing on the same professional team. The relationship sparked huge publicity, as well as a great deal of public support.
‘At autograph alley at Harvard Stadium, the kids come up to me and say “congratulations on yours and Joanna’s engagement,”‘ Lianne has said. ‘They bring pictures of us from People Magazine and they want us to sign it. You would never have gotten this 10 years ago. Never would you have gotten people coming to the games saying “Congratulations on your engagement” when it’s the wedding for two females.’
12. Caroline Seger – Sweden
Swedish midfielder Caroline Serger has won over a century of caps since making her debut for the Swedish national women’s team in 2005. Her career has taken her from Swedish captain to Philadelphia to Western New York Flash and then Paris Saint-Germain. An out lesbian, she has said she used to conceal her sexuality but decided to speak out to help other gay and lesbian young people who might be struggling with their identity.
13. Casey Stoney – England
English player Casey Stoney has been capped for England over 100 times since making her debut in 2000.
A defender for Arsenal Ladies, she also captained the Team GB squad at the 2012 London Olympics. She came out publicly in February 2014, and announced five months later that her partner, Megan Harris, was pregnant with twins. Megan gave birth to their twins, Teddy and Tilly, in November 2014.
‘I have struggled to accept myself for many years,’ she has said. ‘I have had no reason to feel that way but there is still a stigma, you still hear certain abuse thrown at other people and think, “We are still living in the dark ages sometimes”. But actually what coming out has shown me is that society is changing for the better. I feel lucky to live in this country.’
14. Abby Wambach – USA
Abby Wambach is an American player, coach and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
She currently stands as the highest all-time goal scorer for her national team, which she has regularly played in since 2003. Not only was she named the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year, becoming the first American to gain the accolade in ten years, but she was included in Time Magazine’s May 2015 list of the top 100 most influential people in the world.
In 2013 she married her longtime partner, Sarah Huffman, and said the marriage did not represent a coming out: ‘I can’t speak for other people, but for me, I feel like gone are the days that you need to come out of a closet. I never felt like I was in a closet. I never did. I always felt comfortable with who I am.’