‘Amazing, inspiring’: #AuthenticMe at the BBC

In the week of National Coming Out Day, we held our first event, alongside our friends at BBC Pride. Catch up on an empowering evening exploring authenticity in sport…

Outstanding athletes sharing their stories; an in-depth panel discussion about what it’s really like to be an LGBT person in sport – and in sports media; an engaged audience asking questions; and loads of subsequent conversations to keep the momentum going.

Sports Media LGBT+’s first event – #AuthenticMe – was a big success, and we’re still buzzing from all the energy in the room!

The event was held on Tuesday 9 October – but it all began almost a year ago, when our network was first founded. We’ve been backed to the hilt by ‘big brothers and sisters’ at InterMedia UK, the LGBT+ network for the whole media industry, who welcomed their new sports-mad sibling and supported the idea of an event to show what rewards might come for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans athletes who wanted to be themselves fully.

The opportunity arose to partner with BBC Pride, whose co-chairs Matt Weaver and Karen Millington offered not only their services but also a superb event space at their Quay House home in Salford. Along with InterMedia UK, more partners came on board in the form of the Sports Journalists’ Association and BBC Sport. We couldn’t have got the event off the ground without their help, and we’re so grateful to have built such strong relationships with all of them.

On the Tuesday evening itself, our audience members arrived for a drinks and pizza reception, and a chance to catch up and chat with other guests.

Then our host for the night – BBC Sport Correspondent, Katie Gornall, kindly taking a brief break from her maternity leave to return to presenting duties! – got #AuthenticMe underway.

To set the scene, our video editor Daryl put together a fantastic montage of top LGBT athletes such as Gus Kenworthy, Nicola Adams and Tom Daley talking about why authenticity and inclusion are so important to them. The montage also included some clips from Sky Sports’ recent ‘My Icon: Rainbow Laces’ series featuring Casey Stoney, Sophie Cook and Ryan Atkin, and footage from BBC Three too.

That teed up our first speaker, Tom Bosworth who after showcasing some of his season highlights, spoke to the audience about ‘When The Stars Align’ – why the circumstances were right for him to come out on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme three years ago, and how that decision had a positive impact on his performance, with various world record times and personal bests soon set. In his chat with Katie, Tom also explained how he’d been able to play a part in changing athletics culture in this country; the challenges of using social media and sharing on a public platform; and why he still needs to exercise some caution when speaking to the news and sports media.

Our next guest was Sports Media LGBT+ network member Beth Fisher, the former Wales international hockey player and now a broadcaster with BBC Sport Wales. The audience was introduced to Beth via a clip from the LGBT Sport Cymru Iris in the Community Prize-nominated short film ‘LGBT Awareness In Sport’, which demonstrated Beth’s advocacy work and her passion for inclusion. In her chat with Katie and Tom, she was able to expand on her experiences both as an athlete and now working in sports media, and how stereotypes and assumptions are still obstacles to progress in sport, even today.

Beth’s contribution also segued neatly into a presentation by Jon Holmes on Sports Media LGBT+ itself. Jon described the background to the network’s foundation, its objectives, and some of the productive partnerships and collaborations we have made in our first year. He also introduced some of the findings from our survey and how that was helping our understanding of where the problems lie for LGBT people in the sports media industry, plus some examples of positive and negative reporting in print and on digital.

Next up was racing driver Charlie Martin, who told her unique story in motorsport through a series of slides and videos. Stepping away from the sport she loves in order to transition was an incredibly uncertain time for Charlie, but thanks to the strong support from a key group of friends and allies, she returned to the paddock and is now speeding towards her target – to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and in doing so, make history. Talking to Katie after her presentation, Charlie spoke about how she hoped being open about her life as a trans woman in sport would inspire others to follow their dreams.

On the same night, Charlie recorded an interview for BBC Sport that got significant coverage across all their platforms on Wednesday 17th – big thanks to Hannah Lupton and Alistair Magowan for their excellent work on the film.

Katie, Tom, Charlie and Beth then took questions from the audience, covering a host of related topics such as wider trans inclusion in sport; why none of the thousands of professional male footballers – past or present – in the UK who happen to be gay or bisexual are ready to talk publicly about that part of their lives; and the role of the media in creating an environment where athletes can achieve their full potential.

To close the evening, Jack Murley of the BBC in the Channel Islands gave a presentation on the new BBC LGBT Sport Podcast, including some of his favourite interviews from the previous incarnation of the series called ‘The Other Side’, and his hopes for how the podcast can help keep the BBC moving forwards on this sector of inclusion. One of our audience members, rally driver Rowena Purdy, has since shared her story on Jack’s podcast in the last couple of days – a highly entertaining and informative listen it is too, and one we encourage you to download and share.

A big thank you to Katie, Tom, Charlie, Beth and Jack for successfully bringing the #AuthenticMe idea to life; to Matt at BBC Pride for his logistical knowhow and event acumen, ably assisted by Kate Francis; to Shelley Alexander and Jo Currie at BBC Sport for backing the project in every way; to Janine Self, Sarah Juggins and James Green at the Sports Journalists’ Association for their ongoing commitment to diversity, and diverse initiatives in our industry; and to Jonni Learoyd and all the InterMedia UK steering committee for believing in the potential of Sports Media LGBT+ to help bring about change.

We were also indebted to our BBC Quay House teams in catering, front of house, security and AV for making the night run so smoothly, and also to our video editor Daryl Hammond and our photographer Rob King.

Last but by no means least, our gratitude to all who helped with event promotion and especially to our audience members who supported in person on the night, who had questions for our panellists, who shared their #AuthenticMe experiences on social media, and who left such kind testimonials on email, Twitter and Facebook (a sample of which are below).

Our host and panellists

Katie Gornall on Twitter – “Loved being a part of this. Thank you to everyone who supported this event, it’s so important to have these stories heard.”

Tom Bosworth on Twitter – “What a brilliant evening hearing a range of LGBT stories with BBC Pride and Sports Media LGBT! It was an honour to be asked to speak. Fantastic evening raising important awareness for a whole load of issues within Sport and the media.”

Charlie Martin on Instagram – “Such an amazing evening… so many inspirational stories on how being your true self in sport increases performance and well being. A huge thank you to everyone who helped organise it.”

Beth Fisher on Twitter – “What an incredible evening to be part of! Thank you Sports Media LGBT, BBC Pride, Sports Journalists’ Association, and every single person who turned up to be part of important conversations about sport & our community”

Jack Murley on Instagram – “A real pleasure to be asked to speak at the #AuthenticMe event tonight. Some inspiring stories, a great panel”


Audience guests

“I’m still in awe from the #AuthenticMe event! Thanks Tom for sharing your story!” – Graham R

“Such a positive night listening to Tom, Charlie, Beth, Jack and Katie. Engaging, Inspiring… We still have a long way to go” – Barbara J

“Really amazing event tonight. Inspiring to hear the stories of coming out, each one unique in its own way, and each one I could relate to in some way” – Jack A

“Brilliant night at #AuthenticMe, with some hugely inspiring speakers and a great group of attendees” – Chris D

“OutdoorLads had an amazing time at the incredibly moving and inspiring event” – OutdoorLads on Facebook

“As a Trans-woman and member of the audience, I would like to add my thanks for a truly wonderful and inspirational evening. Listening to the personal stories of the guests, which were both touching and humorous really struck a chord. It was also lovely to meet the guests and team who made us all feel valued. Special thank to Charlie Martin for all her support and to Beth Fisher who gave me a cuddle when I cried. Katie Gornall was a wonderful host and I wish her and all involved in the event all the very best” – Clara L on Facebook

“I was very pleased to meet and talk to so many people… I have no doubt that there are an awful lot of sportsmen and women who may still be ‘hidden’, as I was until not long ago. But the event has made me sit up and take notice and, in a way, change my ideas about my own situation within the motorsport /rallying community. I hope you’ll be able to organize another such event as I think they are necessary, especially when supported by the BBC” – Rowena P on email

Were you at our #AuthenticMe evening at the BBC? Please let us know your thoughts on the event by posting a comment below.

If you’d like to become a member of our Sports Media LGBT+ network or you’d just like to find out more, you can sign up to our mailing list here. Alternatively, just drop us an email at info@sportsmedialgbt.com.

We hope to stage further events in the future, and we welcome your suggestions… let us know!

And remember – the annual Rainbow Laces campaign activation is coming soon (Sat 17 November to Fri  7 December). It’s a great opportunity to play your part in helping to make sport everyone’s game.

Further reading…

Sports Media LGBT+ Survey Results

‘Sometimes I’m still scared to be me’ (Beth’s blog for National Coming Out Day)

Decrease and development: Reflections on D Word 3

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