For at least one game every year, Minnesota United retires its traditional black and blue colors for something a bit more colorful.
On Friday evening against FC Dallas, the club will host its fifth annual Pride Night. United has been dedicated to publicly including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community since the current ownership group took charge of the then-North American Soccer League team in 2013.
That’s in contrast to teams such as the Timberwolves and Twins, which took until this year to organize their first pride nights. The Vikings recently had their first booth at last weekend’s Twin Cities Pride Festival, in addition to hosting the first LGBTQ summit by an NFL team.
“This isn’t a come-on-lately because it’s a fad. This was there on literally that first year when it wasn’t nearly as prevalent,” Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire said of the team’s efforts. “It’s the kind of thing we have to make statements about because if you stand back and say nothing … you don’t help evoke or create positive change.”
McGuire said he and the rest of the ownership group are committed to making sure the club represents its values in its actions, which means supporting and including a diverse community no matter the sexual orientation, gender, race or religion. While the front office never had specific conversations about being on the forefront of societal issues, McGuire said the club was never afraid to lead the way.
In 2013, 12 players and two coaches — including current winger Miguel Ibarra and sporting director Manny Lagos — pledged support to Athlete Ally, an organization that works to end homophobia and transphobia in sports through education, policy and activism. The next year, United became the first pro sports team to sign the pledge as a group, a partnership orchestrated by Nick Rogers, the former team president.
Several more United players pledged again in the Loons’ first MLS season, including current players Jerome Thiesson, Marc Burch, Collin Martin and Collen Warner.
A few players also have taken part in a fundraising campaign called Playing for Pride, which North Carolina FC player Austin da Luz started in 2017 as a way to raise money and start conversations after the controversy of the bathroom bill. Last season, Martin and midfielder Sam Cronin were two of about 40 players to take part in the campaign, in which they donated money based on how many games they played and other statistics while encouraging fans to match them. This season, Martin and defender Eric Miller are participating.
The campaign raised nearly $14,000 last year for the Human Rights Campaign. This year’s donations will go to Athlete Ally.
“I’m a huge fan of the Minnesota community and the club. Can’t tell you how appreciative I am of all the support I’ve gotten,” da Luz said. “The easy thing to do is to shy away from these issues and maybe talk around them, but I don’t think that it does anyone any favors, and it’s definitely not how progress is made. So to see a club so staunchly support things that some people may see as controversial is inspiring. And frankly, I think a lot of clubs could take a leaf out of their book.”
A majority of MLS’s 23 teams host pride nights, and the league launched a Soccer for All initiative this season. Dot Belstler, executive director of Twin Cities Pride, said her organization has worked with United since at least 2013. She puts the club a close second behind the Lynx among local pro teams in terms of engagement with the LGBTQ community. United termed this year’s Pride Night as the “most robust demonstration” the club has organized. Big rainbow scarves will flank the players’ tunnel before kickoff. The captain’s armband as well as the numbers on the kits will be rainbow-colored. Stadium LED boards will show multicolor displays, and there will be a special video pregame.
Two local LGBTQ recreation soccer teams will play a mini-match before the game, and United will recognize a member of the LGBTQ community at halftime with its L’Etoile du Nord community service award. There also will be tables on the concourse where fans can learn more about LGBTQ nonprofits.
The club and its supporters’ groups are also offering pride-themed merchandise. The Dark Clouds supporters’ group is raising money through a Pride fundraiser for Avenues for Homeless Youth.
“We’re a club that, whatever type of person you want to call yourself or feel you are, you can bring that out, and there’s no judging on our part,” forward Christian Ramirez said. “We care about everyone the same, and I know it’s been an important part of this club, and it’s opened my eyes to a lot of things.
“It’s all about including everyone. That’s the beauty of this club and beauty of this city that keeps growing and keeps growing together.”