Content Warning for homophobia and threats of violence.
Earlier this year we told you about Jesús Tomillero, the first openly gay referee in Spanish football. After receiving a deluge of homophobic abuse on the pitch and on social media, Tomillero decided he had enough and announced his retirement from football.
Over the summer, as his story made international headlines and brought messages of support and solidarity with it, Tomillero reconsidered his decision. He ultimately did return to football, and just this past weekend he suited up for the second time this season to officiate an Andalusía second division game between CD Lasalle and Atlético Zabal. Tomillero ran out onto the pitch and was greeted with an outpouring of love and acceptance.
He was met with more homophobic jeers from fans. One fan was particularly vocal after Tomillero awarded a penalty to Zabal; that fan was ultimately shown the exit, but not before screaming “you fucking faggot” at the referee.
So that day was bad enough. But then Tomillero decided to talk about the abuse on social media.
That's when the real fun began.
“You son of a bitch. You messed with the club. We'll kill you with AIDS, you faggot,” read one tweet sent to Tomillero.
“Not long left to live, faggot,” read another, this one with pictures of a handgun and bullets.
Yet another with a picture of a gun and a car: “Reporting this was a mistake, Jesús. The boss has put a price on your head. Get ready for what's coming, faggot.”
You get the picture.
The abuse and threats have become so great that police are now stationed on 24hr watch outside Tomillero’s home. Even so, he says, “... I’m still afraid and I don’t know what could happen.”
Spain is generally seen as one of the most tolerant of LGBT people in Europe, with a 2013 survey showing 88% of Spaniards saying society should be accepting of gay people. But the small minority of hold-outs are leading a fierce and violent pushback. In Madrid and the surrounding region, a homophobic hate crime is reported every two days.
Of course, for LGBT folks, none of this is particularly surprising. While public shows of support for queer people are growing, the necessity for said support is undeniable. And for LGBT people in the soccer world, there are constant reminders that there is still a long way to go.
As for Tomillero, he plans to continue refereeing. “I’m going to keep on doing what I like doing, whatever it costs. But I am really, really scared.”