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Galen Riley still can’t quite believe it. What started as a simple commitment, in the form of a social media post, has swelled to a tidal wave of support, donations, and more than a quarter of a million dollars towards LGBTQ+ organizations in the United States. Thanks to a seamless signup process and the inherent activism of North American supporters groups, Prideraiser has become a force for good across the United States. With the 2021 shaping up as Prideraiser’s biggest year yet, it’s only continuing to grow.
“I don’t think anybody could have reasonably expected anything close to what it has turned into,” said Riley. “It’s been incredible.”
On June 1, 2017, Riley, a capo for Chattanooga FC supporters group, the Chattahooligans, realized it was Pride Month, and posted on Facebook that he would be wearing rainbow accessories for all Chattanooga FC matches, and making a donation to a local LGBTQ organization for every goal that Chatta’s men’s and women’s teams scored during the month. He invited any other interested groups to do the same. The post caught the eye of Dean Simmer and Jackie Carline of Northern Guard Supporters, Detroit City’’s supporter group. They signed on and began rounding up commitments from other members of NGS. Somewhere along the way, they dubbed the competition a Prideraiser. Riley snapped up the Prideraiser domain name and social handles, and several other lower league clubs pledged support.
“Once we started getting a couple of other campaigns, I was like, ‘OK this might turn into a thing,” Riley said.
It was when NWSL supporters group Rose City Riveters joined halfway through June that Riley knew he was on to something.
“Once we got our first like pro team, I sort of had an inkling like, ‘Oh, this can become a thing, so we should take it seriously,” he said.
Slowly, then suddenly, Prideraiser was very much a thing. By the end of June that year, 7 total groups raised more than $12,000. In 2018, 28 groups raised $50,000 and in 2019, 49 groups raised $122,000.
The beauty of Prideraiser is its simplicity. Round up the folks in your supporters group, pony up some cash, pledging a certain dollar amount per goal for the amount of goals your club will score in the month of June. The more goals scored in June, the more the cash stacks up. At the end of the month the dollars are tallied up and donated to a local LGBTQ+ organization.
“I think people engage with it because it’s simple and because it’s fun,” Riley said. “So, it’s kind of like gambling. You’re sort of gambling for your own team but against your own wallet, and the mystery of it has a fun hook to it.”
Each SG runs its own campaign, twisting the spirit of the overall mission to suit its match schedule and community. Over the years, returning groups have built excitement and momentum around their campaigns, which bleed into the next year’s efforts.
The Northern Guard has elevated the enthusiasm for the campaign to near evangelical levels, pouring in so much money to the Ruth Ellis Center, year after year, that Riley jokes that he’s surprised they haven’t opened a Northern Guard Wing of the facility yet.
For 2021, the Resurgence of Atlanta United is donating to Lost-n-Found Youth. Black Swamp Brigade of Toledo Villa FC are donating to Equality Toledo. The Curse, of New Mexico United is donating to Casa Q. Bluff City Mafia of Memphis 1901 is donating to the Focus Center Foundation. The Pride from FC Cincinnati is donating to Lighthouse Youth Services. Cloud 9 of Gotham FC is donating to the Ali Forney Center. The list goes on and on.
That type of participation, even within the over-involved world of supporter culture, is rare, and it’s largely thanks to the genius of tech lead, Dan Ryan. Ryan, a technologist and front end developer is, according to Riley, “uniquely qualified on the planet to be good at this particular thing.” Ryan built out and maintains an easy-to-use platform on which Prideraiser operates.
“Really the miracle is, is what Dan did,” Riley said. “So if you walk up to somebody at a tailgate party or at an after party at your post game bar, and you're just like, ‘Hey, I'm doing this thing, I've got a scarf on, I'm going to pitch you about this thing.’ If they whip out their phone, they go to prideraiser.org, their local campaign is at the very top, so it’s the first thing they see. They tap it, they see a big green pledge button, and your phone already knows your name and your email. You just hit a number and you hit pledge. It's fun and it's easy at every level and it feels good. It's like, like when you make a pledge, you feel good, and when you score a goal, you're like, ‘Oh, you know, this is going to cost me an extra five bucks, but like, yeah, this feels nice too.’ Then, when the donation comes in, and it’s sort of the culmination of things. It feels good at every step of the way, and that’s the magic.”
Another huge factor in Prideraiser’s success is the turnkey approach for chronically overworked, overwhelmed SG Leadership.
“They have more stuff on their plate than they can possibly imagine,” Riley said. “So, for us to go to somebody who we know, somebody we can sympathize with how they’re feeling, and say, ‘Okay, I have another project that I want to put on your plate, but I promise you, it’s going to be the easiest additional project someone will ask you for. There’s definitely a level of trust for approaching the supporters group leadership and having them pick it up.”
As an elevator pitch, Prideraiser is numbers. It’s donations, goals, metrics, tracking. Fun numbers, but numbers all the same.
But the essence of Prideraiser isn’t the numbers.
It’s when Riley handed Ryan a pride flag to wave at an FC Chattanooga match back in 2017. It was the first time the Chattahooligans were displaying a pride flag, and the first time Ryan, who is gay, flew a pride flag himself.
“It was this big deal to me to like be in a stadium full of people and be like I'm here and I don't care what you think,’” Ryan said.
It’s the organizer who put on a Prideraiser campaign for his small town community and was able to meet other gay people in his town for the first time, saying later it was the first time he didn’t feel alone inside the stadium. It’s the sibling of a supporter in a conservative town who was able to come out to their family using the local Prideraiser campaign as context. It’s the countless other stories that haven’t been, or have yet to be told.
It’s also why Riley and Ryan have no plans to stop Prideraiser anytime soon.
“I think we can turn off the site when there's not a need, like when we've achieved sort of societal equity,” Riley said. “That would be nice if we could get there quickly, but probably not. The flip side of that is we'll just keep adding letters to the rainbow. ”
“There, there could be a day like that where we do this and no one shows up,” Ryan said. “Then we're like, all right, we're going home. I don't know that that's ever going to really happen.”
The 2021 campaign has already set records, and the energy around it has been electric. As of Saturday, June 5th, 55 different campaigns have been registered, with more than 1,339 pledges and $17,936 raised so far. Ryan and Riley are busy maintaining the site, assisting SGs, and posting updates about the many matches each night with Prideraiser implications.
Despite the extra work, it’s all been worth it to see the supporter world come together for a great cause.
“There’s this huge community of people that are trying to do good and trying to do good by their fellow humans,” Ryan said. “We’ve even seen where rivals outside of Prideraiser come in and share tips on how to make different campaigns better, and how to get more fans out for Pride Night. It makes you remember that it’s just a game, and at the end of the day, there are bigger things at play, and we can all be human together.”