Atlanta United fans (L-R) Terri Harrington, Fran Tabor, Lori Peterson and Angel Whitworth meet during the All Stripes tailgate June 29, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. All Stripes is an Atlanta United supporter group for LGBTQ fans and their allies.
Photo: Sierra Webster
Photo: Sierra Webster

All Stripes creating space in soccer culture for LGBTQ-identifying Atlanta United fans

In the belly of the Gulch outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, David Prophitt sets up for the All Stripes Stonewall 50th Anniversary tailgate before an Atlanta United match. He’s running around, writing a menu on a sandwich board and pulling tables together.

It’s a sunny, summer Saturday downtown with the kinds of clouds that promise showers to come. Thankfully, the tailgate is set up under an overpass, shading it from direct sunlight and potential rain. It’s loud and hard to hear as music from several tailgates mingles together in the muggy air creating one discordant sound.

It’s the day after the anniversary of the historic Stonewall riots – known for spurring the gay-rights liberation movement in New York in the late 1960s. 

Prophitt gets a chance to sit, drinking a light pink margarita out of a purple solo cup. He’s wearing a rainbow “Y’all means All” T-shirt and an All Stripes supporter group scarf with a rainbow painted on his left cheek.

“It is our goal to show the rest of the supporters here and the fans that gay people and sports are not separate,” he says. “That’s what keeps me going . . . and the camaraderie.”

All Stripes is an Atlanta United supporter group for LGBTQ fans and their allies. Historically, LGBTQ people haven’t been safe or accepted in many, if any, mainstream spaces, but especially in sports. That’s why a space like this, where LGBTQ people can be accepted is so important.

Fran Tabor, one of All Stripes’ board members, knows this to be true. In February 1997, she was at the Otherside Lounge in Midtown the night of the Otherside bombing. Now, she’s always watching out for the members of All Stripes, vigilant for signs of potential problems or threats. 

“From my experience, we’re not ever really safe,” she said. “When we gather in open spaces amongst other people – even in the accepting Gulch – it’s something that I’m aware of.”

And she’s right to be aware. 

At a match last season, All Stripes had purchased three rows of group tickets, so people could sit together. Midway through the match, someone threw a cup of ice at the group – unlike when fans throw ice and beer in the supporter section as a show of celebration. 

“They threw it such that it would hit someone, cup and all,” she said. And it did hit someone.

Sean Ellis, Terri Harrington and Angel Whitworth enjoy a laugh during a tailgate before the Atlanta United game June 29, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. All Stripes is an Atlanta United supporter group for LGBTQ fans and their allies.
Photo: Sierra Webster

Prophitt and Nick Jones co-founded All Stripes together before Atlanta United’s first season in 2017. Both men, who identify as gay, were season-ticket holders in anticipation of Atlanta’s inaugural season. They met through Jones’ coworkers and decided to create a Facebook group to gather other LGBTQ fans of the United to watch away games. 

In the next couple of days, the group grew from a handful of their friends to 100 people. Today – two years later – the Facebook group sits at just under a thousand members. And Jones and Prophitt have made the group a 501(c)(3) non-profit. They tailgate before every home match and host away-game watch parties at queer-owned or queer-centered establishments, such as the Georgia Beer Garden, Las Margaritas and My Sister’s Room.

At the Stonewall 50th Anniversary tailgate, members of All Stripes have made the tailgate their own. A lesbian couple is tending a makeshift bar and two men, Eric and Eric, are handing out free beer and taking donations for Lost and Found Youth of Atlanta, a non-profit that advocates for homeless LGBTQ youth.

And it’s not just LGBTQ folks, that have embraced this community as their own. 

Lori and Jonathon Peterson, a straight couple, were some of the first members of All Stripes, attending the first watch party at Woof’s Bar, a gay sports bar in Atlanta. Now Lori Peterson sits on the board. 

Others on the board hope that someday All Stripes will become a club-recognized supporter group with the perks that come with recognition, including getting to march with the team in Atlanta’s Pride parade. At last year’s parade, All Stripes members couldn’t march with the club because they weren’t a recognized supporter group. Tabor said she was “absolutely devastated.”

“That was like a slap in the face,” she said, getting choked up at the memory. “We are out here. We’re raising money; we’re doing charity. We have met every single milestone they’ve asked us to meet. And yet, they still won’t recognize us.” 

In the Gulch, there’s yellow caution tape separating the recognized groups from those that aren’t. On the morning of tailgates, Prophitt, who lives closest to the stadium, gets to the Gulch at 7 a.m. to save spaces for the All Stripes tailgate, while the recognized groups have spots reserved for them by the club.

Skate Noftsinger, Atlanta United’s marketing and fan-engagement senior director, said the team is working with All Stripes and other groups to become recognized, but the process is slow. 

“People forget that we’re in our third season,” she said. “So, you’re still getting some of those parameters in place. The last thing you want to do is start adding officially recognized groups but not be able to support them and make their experience what it should be.”

As the club establishes its process for recognition, though, All Stripes continues to feel the ramifications of not being recognized. This year, they’ve purchased their own spot in the parade and have invited other fans who weren’t permitted to march with the team to walk with them.

But recognition from the club is about more than just marching in the parade; it’s about having a seat at the table to have a say in decisions, like calling Pride night “Unity Night,” which Noftsinger said was done to promote all of the club’s “Soccer for All” unity platforms, such as “Her Time to Conquer.” 

“It isn’t gay pride; it’s gay-pride-like,” Tabor said. “This is Pride. People died for being who they are. Every day we are subjugated to the possibility of violence.”

That’s why remembering Stonewall is so important, because it’s a reminder of the LGBTQ community’s history, Tabor said, and their continued fight not just in New York, but everywhere – even Atlanta.

“Stonewall was a pivotal moment in the fight for our rights,” Jones said. “And it’s a very well-known one, but it started long before there, and it still continues to go.”

For All Stripes, that means continuing to fight for recognition from the club and access for its members.

“We can’t get what we want today, but soon,” Jones continued. “We know this community is full of people who will speak their minds to get what they want.” 

In the Gulch as it starts to sprinkle, Prophitt heads toward the stadium; he has a Pride flag draped over his shoulders. It’s one of the All Stripes’ flags, with the group’s logo overlaying a rainbow. It matches the one flying over their tent.

“Once you’re around the gay and queer community for a good while, you see the diversity of our community,” he said. “You realize that there are people who love theater. There are people that love sports.” 

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