“It was life-changing”: How Play Proud enabled Mike, a football fan and electrician, to help make their communities more LGBTQ+ inclusive

At the beginning of Pacific FC’s season, you can find Mike Geldreich (he/they) with purple hair which slowly fades to pink as the games and weeks roll by. It’s their ode to their team and just one of the many ways they live and breathe football.

From a young age, Mike knew there was something special about the game. But it wasn’t until recently that Mike, an electrician by day and member of the queer community, realised football could give him the tools he needed to help make the construction industry on Vancouver Island more LGBTQ+ inclusive.

That journey started a few years ago through Mike’s pre-match routine.

“To show my support for football being super inclusive, I painted pride colours all down one side of my spare van and the trans colours on the roof,” explained Mike.

“That was our tailgate van. Everybody got to see it and it got the conversation going.”

Pacific FC noticed. The club invited Mike to represent their supporter’s group in Play Proud – football’s leading LGBTQ+ movement which brought eight North American professional football clubs, a representative from their fan group, and a representative from grassroots organisations together for 100+ hours of in-person LGBTQ+ inclusion training over 2022.

The first week of workshops was hosted by Angel City FC in Los Angeles and the second round by Tigres in Monterrey, Mexico. They were designed to help make the 2026 Men’s World Cup the most inclusive yet. But the impact Play Proud made on Mike personally was something he did not foresee.

“I probably couldn’t have designed a better weeklong group therapy session if I needed to,” said Mike. “It was queer-focused, football-themed, and life skills development.

“It was life-changing honestly.”

Post Play Proud in Los Angeles, Mike set out to make his community more like the safe space he felt during the workshops.

As he started to make inroads around football, he felt supported.

He began having conversations with youth football associations about their DEI policies. And when Latin American exchange students started an infamous homophobic chant at a Pacific FC match, Mike quashed it within seconds. He immediately turned around motioning the group to quit it, started a new chant, and had a conversation with the students after the match about why the chant does not belong in the game. At every stage, they felt supported by the Pacific FC community.

“I had the buy-in from the supporter’s section,” said Mike. “They could see that I was emphatic about something. The Brazilian supporter’s group that attends every game instantly bought in too.”

“They bought in because they knew the club paid for my way with Play Proud. This wasn’t a personal crusade.”

Since Play Proud, Mike realised the importance of having the support of others and his club in making communities more LGBTQ+ inclusive.

Despite feeling supported in football, outside the game Mike felt differently.

“In the football world I didn’t feel alone, at my work I did,” commented Mike.

So when Mike set off to Play Proud’s second residency hosted in Monterrey, Mexico, he went with the aim of developing skills and tools to help him talk to his construction colleagues and lead them through the LGBTQ+ inclusive workshops he participated in.

Come spring, a less stressful time in the construction industry, Mike plans to start facilitating Play Proud workshops for their colleagues like an active listening session, exercises on power and privilege, and starting conversations on how to make spaces more inclusive. But Mike’s first step is getting people to show up.

“I have to get people to want to be involved before they are going to learn anything out of this,” commented Mike.

“There are some people I can have this conversation with where I can tell them this is important to me is enough and they are willing to listen. That would not be enough in the work environment.”

In the past, Mike always felt the need to put an economic spin on LGBTQ+ inclusion conversations at work.

“I’d explain that we might lose money as a company because somebody notices these homophobic comments but doesn’t tell us about it,” said Mike.

“On a weekly basis, I’ll hear fag, or that’s so gay to imply something is stupid on the job.

“The people you’re dealing with might not themselves identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but their family members or friends might. They might hear the language that is used or the jokes that are told and decide when this contract is done, we’re just not going to call you guys back and play it cool. You might not ever know this was the thing.”

Mike himself has dabbled with the idea of leaving his company because of homophobic attitudes and culture. But Play Proud gave him a new drive to stay and help spark change from within the industry.

“The fact that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend these residencies and learn these skills, I wouldn’t be honouring it in any way if I wasn’t trying to apply that in every sphere that I’m in,” said Mike.

“After Monterrey, I’m feeling significantly more confident in having these conversations.”

While Mike waits for spring to implement their Play Proud learnings at work, they are practising facilitating conversations and exercises with smaller groups they feel safe and seen in. This is further preparing Mike with the skillset and confidence to bring change learned through football to the construction world.

“As an electrician, it’s a different level of work right now. The days are darker and storms are coming,” commented Mike.

“You can tell this is not a time people are going to be open to these things. But if I apply this stuff in spring, it will be.”

“Play Proud reaffirmed to me that change is possible and that talk is the first step in action. I’m ready to put in the work to make soccer and my construction community inclusive to everybody.”