On 2nd December, in a 5 and a half minute video he recorded and posted on YouTube, Olympian and multiple medal-winning diver Tom Daley announces that he is in a relationship with another guy and has been since the spring of this year, and that right now he couldn’t be happier. “I still fancy girls, but right now I’m dating a guy and I couldn’t be happier” Tom says in the video. Interestingly, Tom does not use labels such as gay or bisexual, and nor is there any reason he should – perhaps, on can hope, we are slowly reaching the stage where such labels are meaningless and irrelevant. Maybe.
Of course, it goes without saying that I wish him and his partner all the very best of happiness together, and I hope that our increasingly-intrusive media will give them some space to continue their relationship.
And his announcement got me to thinking. Back when I was Tom’s age, I was living in Scotland where homosexuality had only just been decriminalised a mere 3 years earlier (14 years after the rest of the UK did, and only 190 years after France did!)
Back in those days, we had pretty much no role-models for anything other than opposite-sex relationships.
TV offered us John Inman and Larry Grayson, and that was pretty much it. Certainly when it came to the sports environment, nothing.
Growing up in a small village, anything other than being completely straight was a no-no. There were around 100 pupils in our class at school (thinning down to maybe 20 or 30 in the final year), so statistically speaking there must have been maybe 4 other non-straight kids in my class, but such was the climate at the time that even if there were, none of us knew because we all kept it hidden. Had I come out at school, I am pretty certain I’d have been shunned or worse. Partly because it was all something nobody talked about, was kept hidden, and as I mention above pretty much the only visible non-straights were the aforementioned two very camp aging gentlemen (not that there is anything at all wrong with aging or being camp, of course, but they are not exactly great role models to look up to in that respect).
It is important for many people to have role models, people they can look up to and identify with. Even more-so when it comes to the whole confusing scenario around one’s sexuality. Just being able to see someone high profile on our screens and think “Hey, I’m not the only one, maybe I’m not a freak after all” is such a massively powerful thing.
Fast forward to now, and we are starting to see non-straight people even at the top of various sports. Cinema, TV, music, theatre etc are well represented, but to see sports stars feeling comfortable enough to be able to say “Hey, I’m in a same-sex relationship” will be a tremendously empowering thing to many young people up and down the country.
Earlier in the year Gareth Thomas, international rugby player, came out. There are out gay stars in cricket, American football, recently a major star in WWE came out to tremendous support from both fans and, crucially, official support from the WWE itself. And now a young Olympian has announced he too is currently in a same-sex relationship.
Which must be very empowering, or at least reassuring, to the countless young men and women, teenagers and beyond, who are going through their own journey and wondering if they are “freaks” (which they are not, but in many cases that is the message they get daily from family and so-called friends). All around in the media and popular culture, the word “gay” is used daily as a term of abuse; imagine finding yourself attracted to the same sex and every day hearing the word which describes you being used as a derogatory term of abuse by peers and “stars” alike. Let me tell you from experience, it is not an empowering position in which to find oneself.
So new of Tom and others like him can only serve to offer a glimmer of hope for the young (and not so young) who are bullied for being “different”.
Notable in its exception in the sporting arena, sadly, is football especially in the UK. Alas, one of the last bastions of strong homophobia, it will sadly be a long time before any current top-level gay player feels even remotely comfortable or safe about coming out. The closest we had was Justin Fashanu, who was then hounded to suicide and even very publicly disowned by his own professional footballer brother…
Although that said, I did find some encouragement from an unlikely source, Wayne Rooney. A few years ago there was an interview with Jake Shears of Scissor Sister fame, who admitted that he fancied Rooney. Unsurprisingly, the next time they were playing his oh-so-hilarious team mates filled the changing room with copies of the interview, ready to poke fun at Rooney having a gay fan, with the usual (in and around football) taunts and accusations which would accompany it.
Rooney’s reaction? Simply to respond “You are all jealous because I have a celebrity fan” and he then proceeded to ignore their taunts and it died down quickly. I have never forgotten Rooney for that, and will always admire his responsible and grown up approach, which is more than can be said for his homophobic team mates.
And while we are at it, let us not get carried away, and let us remember that there are still 82 countries around the world where homosexuality is illegal, often with severe prison sentences and, in some countries, mandatory execution.
Yes, there are countries around the world where people like Tom or I would be executed by the state (if we had not been murdered first) simply for daring to fall in love.
It is a good job that Tom would not be competing in the Winter Olympics, for the next ones are being held in Russia which currently has an horrendous record on rights for LGBT people – we have no rights in Russia, and can expect to be beaten up, often by the police.
Yes, there is a long way to go in this world before we can relax and consider everyone to be equal.
But for now, let’s with Tom and his partner all the best, and join Tom in wishing for a future where such an announcement would not even have to be made because nobody would actually care or be bothered by the gender of another person’s partner. What a joyous world that would be, if we ever make it that far, where a person’s sexuality is as routine and irrelevant as their eye colour…