By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
Hosted by Sports Media LGBT+ and Pride of the Terraces, the 6th edition of #AuthenticMe brought out LGBTQ+ people in sports to share their journeys in sport before, during, and after coming out. This event was delivered as a part of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022 and was also part of the programme for the Erasmus+ project “Sporting (S)Equals” and consisted of two panel discussions, one on grassroots iniatives in inclusive sport and this one highlighting the impact of how coming out has helped to enhance and drive their performance in sport by releasing the stress and burden from living in the closet.
🏴🌈 Celebrating Scottish Sporting Pride! Thank you to everyone who made our #AuthenticMe event in Glasgow super special 🙏
— Sports Media LGBT+ (@SportsMediaLGBT) October 28, 2022
The 6th edition, hosted in Glasgow, Scotland, highlight Scottish people in sport. Featuring Olympic silver medallist in curling, Bruce Mouat; wheelchair basketball Paralympian, Robyn Love; and professional football referee, Lloyd Wilson. All three panellists had officially “come out” only within the last few years and reflected upon how coming out has impacted their careers. All three shared positive outcomes and minimal backlash, which as Mouat himself shared,
“Even if there were a few hateful messages, I didn’t read them. I don’t even care, that’s their problem, not mine.”
The biggest point of that discussion focused on Wilson, highlight his experiences as a referee while also working in a sport that has been notoriously homophobic using derogatory slurs and chants. However, Wilson reported little to no pushback on him specifically for coming out as gay but highlight how even something as innocuous as a chant that uses discriminatory language has an impacted on those on the field. Wilson joked about how, as a referee, everybody hates him anyway, but that nobody expresses that sentiment because he’s gay. He expressed his hope that by having the visibility and representation on the field helps to dispel these behaviors and encourage discussion.
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Love’s perspective was quite different, as a woman in para-sport which her perspective was particularly insightful. Commenting how Paralympic sport can be strict regarding classifications of what a disability is and if that athlete would even qualify to compete in such a sport. With not every sport being accessible to people based on the type and level of disability. She noted however that wheelchair sports such as basketball were much more inclusive, especially regarding gender identity with many times playing mixed gender teams and games at full intensity without adjustment due to perceptions of gender. This was a particular important point in how para-sports like wheelchair basketball can potentially take the lead on building gender inclusion in sport through mixed teams and dispelling much of the misgivings regarding men and women’s sports.
Love also highlighted that many women sports are generally more inclusive of LGBTQ+ and shared how she competed at the Tokyo Paralympics as one of three openly lesbian athletes on her team. One of her teammates who is also her partner, Love shared about the role of her partner in supporting her coming out and the importance of that relationship in empowering her to live more authentically. This sentiment was also shared by both Mouat and Wright who also highlighted their partners and the role they played in empowering them to come out as well.
Of course, the question of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar came up, specifically for his work in soccer and the impact that such a dangerous and discriminatory environment will have on anybody who LGBTQ is+ that might be attending in football. Wilson, while sharing he had strong opinions on the matter, wasn’t keen on going into detail for professional reasons. Simply staying that there is a higher responsibility from organizations like FIFA and the IOC have a responsibility to ensure that these events are hosted in inclusive places. Mouat was able to add his perspective having competed at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China which has faced similar criticisms as Qater. Mouat shared that he, as an athlete, was more relatively contained into the Olympic village and sport venue, unable to freely move around the city or explore the area. Part of which was due to Covid protocols, a sentiment that Love having competed in the Tokyo Paralympics also shared, but also mentioning that made it easy for China to separate the Olympic visitors from the rest of the city and the issues they are facing.
An important point was brought up by Love, who announced that her and her wife are having a baby. She shared the importance of simply being able to have her partner and family there, highlighting the support of the partners and family that is difficult in discriminatory countries. Emphasizing the point that high level sports organizations and national governing bodies must ensure that all the needs of their athletes and attendees are supported in this regard.
Baby Love due April 2023 🐣
This has been the hardest secret to keep, & we are so excited to share it with the world! Bring on our biggest adventure yet 🤰🏻🍼 pic.twitter.com/vm7bsSRiua
— Robyn Love (@Robyn_Love13) October 13, 2022
Mouat highlighted that while he, coming out as gay, was a non-issue within his team, he was worried that the attention being put on him for it was taking away from the other members of his team. Noting that the bond with his team always remained the same regardless of being gay and he was more concerned with ensuring that his team as a whole is equally elevated, rather than having the attention focused specifically on him. Mouat did note that the curling community in Scotland is rather small, so representation of LGBTQ+ athletes is limited. He contrasted that with Canada and the US where the sport is much bigger, including entire LGBTQ+ teams and leagues, even a national championships. A level of representation in the sport that he hopes will grow abroad as well.
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The final takeaway came in wrapping up the theme of #AuthenticMe with all three panellists highlighted how, after coming out, they found themselves more able to focus on their sport specific task at hand regarding training, competing, and refereeing. Specifically, regarding the support of their partners, but also their teammates, coaches, colleagues, clubs, and organizational bodies who showed their support which in turn, helped each person free themselves to focus on the sport at hand.
Will be sharing more pictures and thoughts about this later – in part because I’m still on cloud nine after it! For the meantime though, Pride of the Terraces is taking over @LEAPsports’ Twitter for the #LeapConference22, go follow there if you haven’t already! #DiverseSport https://t.co/7jThdJEDZ6
— Pride of the Terraces (@PrideofTerraces) October 28, 2022
Photo Credit: Dirk Smith and Jon Holmes