It was June of 2019 when professional footballers Katie McCabe and Ruesha Littlejohn publicly announced they are a couple as part of Aviva's Pride campaign.
The Ireland internationals now feel it was a "no-brainer" to collaborate with Aviva and help the LGBT community.
A year on from their announcement, the couple say they are extremely moved by the support they are receiving. Arsenal star Katie feels more footballers should use their position in a positive way.
Speaking as part of Aviva's Light up for Pride campaign, she said:
"It’s been very moving for us obviously. For the last year we’ve been on the pitch for Arsenal, West Ham and Ireland. So we are in the public eye that little bit more but when you are receiving direct messages on Instagram from people you don't know that are telling you their story and how what we did empowered them to come out to their friends and family.That's what the campaign was all about. We knew we did the right thing by doing it."
"I think as footballers we're role models but we really wanted to become better role models off the pitch as well and to be able to help people with anything. It was fantastic for us."
Despite the pair's bravery, there are still no openly gay male footballers in any of Europe's top leagues. This comes as no surprise to Katie or Ruesha. Both feel the women's game is much more accepting of people in the LGBT community.
Katie says it's important for players to feel ready before coming out publicly.
"It's also important to take into consideration that they need to be ready themselves as well because it is a big deal for a lot of people."
“Individually to be comfortable with coming out, I think that's what's most important. We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from our friends and family, and being in the female game as well it is a lot more accepting. There’s a wider range of the LGBT community in the women’s game. I think that’s what's important, the environment you’re in. You can be comfortable to be who you are in it.”
During the lockdown, it has naturally been difficult for the footballers to be away from their teammates. Katie and Ruesha do, however, have the distinct advantage of being able to train together. Though they acknowledge at times it's also important to have separate training sessions to get fit for the upcoming season.
For Ruesha, next season will present an exciting challenge after it was recently announced she is leaving West Ham. The Ireland striker is coy about her future, though she does hint her next club will likely be London-based.
"I’ve got a rough idea [of which club I'm moving to]. I can't say right now as it has not been totally signed off, but I have something lined up. I'm quite excited and looking forward to what is in store."
Aside from their club careers, the women are also looking forward to resuming their European qualifying campaign with Ireland. Ireland currently sits on top of their qualifying group with 13 points from 5 games. Their next opponents Germany are one point behind, with a game in hand.
Though both are disappointed with the postponement of the tournament until 2022, they acknowledge the players' safety is the most important issue.
"Looking at the bigger picture, nobody could have predicted we were going to go through this pandemic. For us to wait another year is not the worst thing that could happen. I think what's most important is the safety of players and everyone else." said Katie.
“We’ve more time to prepare now and we've even more time to get our squad together. We have picked up a few injuries throughout the campaign, so it’s about getting those players right. For me, the most important aspect is the time. We’ve got more time to get those players right and to work together even more and more time with Vera (Pauw) and Eileen (Gleeson).”
"For us now it's about getting back to work and getting back to decent fitness levels and taking it from where we left off."
To help celebrate Pride this year, the Aviva Stadium is lighting up Dublin’s night sky in the colours of Pride on Friday 26th June and are encouraging people to get on board and #LightUp4Pride.