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Orlando Pride women's soccer team apologizes for removing 'GAY' banner after players flood comments of complaint post

Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The Orlando Pride apologized to the LGBT community this week after a group of supporters were told they couldn't display a banner that said "GAY" at a match over the weekend, ESPN reported.

What happened?

The supporters group, called the Black Swans Drinking Club, wanted to display the banner on Saturday as the Pride hosted the Washington Spirit in the National Women's Soccer League opener. But stadium staff told the group they needed to remove the banner because it was deemed political.

The black banner, which simply said "GAY," was intended as a protest against Florida's new Parental Rights in Education Bill, a measure that prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms and aims to guide "age-appropriate discussions" of the subject matter in subsequent grades.

The bill, dubbed by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, actually enjoys broad support among bipartisan voters, but misconceptions about it abound thanks to attacks from LGBT activists and mischaracterizations in the media.

Unhappy with the banner's removal, the Black Swans took to social media in protest. In an Instagram post, the group argued that the sign voiced a "human rights" statement rather than a "political" one.

Several Pride players soon joined in support of the Black Swans protest, flooding the comments section of the post with the word "gay," over and over.

The backlash resulted in a meeting between team representatives and members of the supporters group.

What happened next?

On Tuesday, the Pride issued a joint statement with the Black Swans unequivocally apologizing for the decision to have the banner removed.

"These conversations resulted in one ultimate and important conclusion: a mistake was made when the Club asked the Black Swans to remove the banner that said 'GAY.' The organization admits it wrongly focused on signage policies and procedures, instead of allowing the important meaning of this message," the team said, noting that the Black Swans would thereafter be permitted to hang the banner during home matches.

The Athletic noted that the move to remove the banner in the first place was strange, since only a month earlier the Pride joined Major League Soccer's Orlando City SC to issue a statement condemning the Florida Parental Rights in Education bill.

The statement read, in part: "We oppose the Florida legislation which promotes ostracization and discrimination of LGBTQ+ students in our schools and their families" and "our club[s] will continue to use our voices and our platforms to create inclusive, supportive, and safe environments for all."

Orlando’s Exploria Stadium, home to the Pride, even has 49 rainbow seats installed as a tribute to the victims of the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub.

Anything else?

That said, loosely followed code of conduct rules do in fact prohibit "political" messages from being displayed in stadiums.

"NWSL fans have a right to expect an environment where fans enjoy the soccer experience free from fighting, thrown objects, attempts to enter the playing field, political or inciting messages, and disorderly behavior, including foul, sexist, racial, obscene or abusive language or gestures," a relevant section of the code of conduct states.

Nevertheless, the league and the club appeared to have folded under pressure from noisy activists.

In a statement to the Athletic on Tuesday, a league spokesperson said, "The NWSL fan code of conduct currently prohibits ‘political or inciting messages,’ but it clearly requires a more thoughtful approach that takes into consideration intent and context. We want to create opportunities for our fans to continue to participate as their full selves, and that includes the activism that is often a core value for our supporters’ groups. We are committed to doing that work and will do so in partnership with supporters and their representatives."

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