Sunday 11 October 2020, 09:03

Farias: Football has the power to change mindsets

  • Mexico’s Janelly Farias struggled for acceptance regarding her sexuality

  • To mark National Coming Out Day, she tells her story to help others

  • “Football is so influential and it can't stay silent”

Mexico’s Janelly Farias has had a lot to smile about lately. The central defender is enjoying life with Guadalajara in the Liga MX Femenil and with her national team and has just given a talk at the prestigious Harvard University.

Yet her biggest cause for satisfaction these days is the relationship that she now enjoys with her parents, who, after many tears and tribulations, have finally accepted the fact that she is gay. “My family rejected me to start with. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever faced in my life,” explained Farias. “It got to the point where I fell into depression and started drinking too much. I didn’t know what to do with myself and I wanted to commit suicide.

“You have to talk about these things because people are really scared of saying it and accepting it as normal,” she added. “It’s important to come out and say it because there are maybe people out there who feel that they’re on their own when they’re not.”

During that turbulent time in her life she had the support of her younger brother, her sister-in-law and her more open-minded cousins and friends. No-one gave her more support, however, than her little nephew Christian Emiliano.

“He saved my life,” recalled Farias. “I was at my lowest point. I wanted to kill myself. He was about a year or 18 months old. After he was born I got closer and closer to him. There was one day when I wanted to commit suicide. I went to see him and he gave me a hug. He could feel my pain and I could feel his love, and it changed my perspective on life. I knew I had to find a way for my parents to accept me.”

She decided there and then to clear the air with her mother and father and talk to them openly about her sexual orientation.

“I was 18 when I fell in love with a woman for the first time and it wasn’t until I was 22 or 23 that I finally had that chat with my parents,” she explained. “I never hid it. It just slowly dawned on them and they started to exclude me from the family without even realising.

"It got to a point where I said, ‘I can’t live like this. I can’t deal with my life being a taboo subject, with not being accepted, with not being able to bring a girlfriend home and yet my brothers can. I need to talk about it with my parents. I want them to understand that I need their love in order to live’.”

Football as a platform

After getting her life back on track following two years of therapy, Farias was filled with love for herself and found her way back into football. She now uses the high-profile status she enjoys as a player with one of the biggest clubs in Mexico to spread a heart-warming message.

“Football has the power create mindsets and change them,” she said. “It’s important to use it as a platform to create more inclusive spaces and promote diversity. There’s a lot of fear in the game around talking about this whole issue, a fear of people being gay and identifying as something different. We have to change that.

“Football is so influential and it can’t stay silent. There are some countries that are doing something about it but there are others that aren’t. We have to make sure we don’t miss the boat. We have to be part of that change. Football has that responsibility as a social phenomenon that can bring about changes in culture and society.

"You’ve now got teams like San Diego Loyal SC, who are coached by Landon Donovan and who did an amazing thing. They were willing to walk off during a game and to give up three points in the play-off race for something bigger: to speak out in an effort to end discrimination, racism and homophobia.”

It is for that same reason that Farias has chosen today, National Coming Out Day, to pass on advice to young people who are going through what she went through. “You are not alone,” she said. “There are lots of us living life differently. And it’s worth it, despite that fear of what others will say. It’s worth it because, unless you give it away, no one can take your personal freedom from you.

“Everyone has their own way of doing things. It’s OK to feel scared, to feel brave, to feel frustrated. It’s part of the process. The people who really love you will be there for you. It might take time to begin with, but they’ll be there.”

Though young people need support, it is just as important to pass advice on to parents and remind them of the impact their actions have on their children’s lives.

“You have to remember that parents make decisions about our lives when we’re still inside the womb: how we’re going to dress, what we’re going to do, who we’re going to marry,” said Farias. “They force us to be something before they’ve even met us. As parents they have the power to help their sons and daughters with all that. They need to give them the freedom to be who they are, to express themselves from a young age, to be free to wear the clothes they want.

“It’s important that parents use neutral language and understand that sex doesn’t determine your gender or sexual orientation. Parents have the power to allow their children to live their best lives. Your well-being depends to a large extent on the unconditional love of your parents. My life changed for the better when my parents finally learned to love me unconditionally.”

These days Farias is enjoying her football, her family and the recognition of many people, not just for her talent on the pitch but also for the intelligence she shows in analysing society. There is still some way to go, however. The widespread happiness she yearns for will only became a reality when everyone is free to live their lives to the full and love finally wins the day.

“I’ve learned to take all the adversity I’ve suffered in my life and turn it into something positive,” said Farias in conclusion. “It’s not easy, but you have to do it if you want to be free. And now I’m telling others about what I’ve been through so I can inspire them.”

Forward Carli Lloyd 10 of USA kicks the ball past Defender Janelly Farias 3 of Mexico