North Carolina FC midfielder Austin da Luz watched as the controversial North Carolina HB2 “bathroom bill” played out on the national scene. The bill’s discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender people led to a large-scale boycott effort. For da Luz, whose brother is gay, it hurt on two different levels. He was frustrated by the discrimination, but also by the way in which it painted North Carolina in a bad light.
“I can’t boycott my home. I just wanted to think of a way to be here but still act.”
“I’m not naive,” he says, “I know that those discriminatory views exist, but at the same time I have grown up here and I’ve known North Carolina to be full of good people. At the end of the day that this state and these people are welcoming. The idea that anyone would ever be afraid to come here is sad to me, because this can be such a good place.”
Much of da Luz’s frustration came from his own desire to be part of a solution. “The boycotts and the bad press are in a lot of ways justified,” he says, “but I can’t boycott my home. I just wanted to think of a way to be here but still act.”
That action turned into Playing for Pride, which he says he started, “To put out a positive message and help further the message that the soccer community is welcoming and that we value diversity and that we’re willing to stand up for the LGBTQ community.”
When da Luz started raising money, he says he knew that the North Carolina FC and NC Courage fans would get behind it, but then it started to spread. He says, “A lot of it has come down to the women (from the NC Courage) who’ve gotten involved and the help of the fans on Twitter. It’s people spreading the word and saying, hey this is a cool thing.”
“I want them to come to me enthusiastic and engaged. I wanted to put it out there and I know in my heart it’s a good cause, so I haven’t felt the need to track people down and talk at people.”
That’s where Minnesota United’s Sam Cronin and Collin Martin enter. Both players know da Luz well. Cronin grew up with da Luz in North Carolina and found out about Playing for Pride through a group text chain with old friends.
Cronin was happy to get involved, saying, “I believe strongly that our league is an inclusive league and we want to stand up for those members of our league and members of our community.”
Martin, too, knew da Luz from his time at Wake Forest. When he saw Playing for Pride on Twitter, though, he didn’t realize da Luz was behind it. He says he knew “it was an awesome thing I wanted to be a part of.”
Da Luz says that all of the growth of Playing for Pride has come from word of mouth; he hasn’t pushed the issue on any of his teammates. “I want them to come to me enthusiastic and engaged. I wanted to put it out there and I know in my heart it’s a good cause, so I haven’t felt the need to track people down and talk at people.”
So far, Playing for Pride has raised over $5000 for Human Rights Campaign. Da Luz hopes it grows, but in a way the campaign has already succeeded. “Raising money is a great thing,” he says, “but furthering that message is the goal.”
FiftyFive.One is now on Patreon. Do you like the independent coverage of soccer news from Minnesota and beyond that FiftyFive.One offers? Please consider becoming a patron.