#AuthenticMe: Golden memories!

Our second annual event celebrating authenticity in sport took place at Twitter HQ on October 8. Catch up on what happened…

By Jon Holmes, network lead – email jon@sportsmedialgbt.com

From gold medal-winning Olympians to grassroots heroes – Sports Media LGBT+’s second annual #AuthenticMe event brought together our rainbow community of LGBT+ people and allies in sport for a special evening of celebration and reflection.

Taking place at Twitter UK’s London HQ near Piccadilly Circus, over 120 attendees came to hear panel discussions and participate in Q&As that explored: the connection between being out and the Olympic Games; the importance of sharing stories in sport, such as via Jack Murley’s BBC LGBT Sport Podcast; and how our national game of football is becoming more inclusive through the efforts of game-changing players, administrators, broadcasters and fans.

Beth Fisher chatting to Matthew Mitcham, Susannah Townsend and Michael Gunning on our ‘Out, And The Olympics’ panel

As a network, we knew from our first event in Manchester with Tom Bosworth and Charlie Martin last year that there’s a big appetite for cross-sports events that highlight the empowering effects of authenticity whilst also recognising the challenges that LGBT+ athletes – at any level – still face.

Our #AuthenticMe hashtag was even trending top of Twitter in London at one point! While social media is a vital tool to connect us all (and the significance of holding our event at the social media giant cannot be underestimated), the opportunity for our members and guest speakers to meet and mingle in person is essential. Here’s hoping we can do more of these events in the future.

A huge thank you to Rebecca, Elle and the team at Twitter UK for their generosity and hospitality – the event space and location could hardly have been better.

We also owe a big debt of gratitude to our event partners – the Sports Journalists’ Association and InterMedia UK, and in particular IMUK chair Matt Weaver – whose support and assistance again proved invaluable.

Our photographer, Dan Vo, produced outstanding imagery and in addition, BBC Sport‘s Daryl Hammond assisted us with some sensational video content which helped us to introduce our Olympic panel guests to the audience. We also salute our friends at Fare and their #FootballPeople campaign, and also Women in Football, with the two networks the headline banner acts on our final panel of the evening.

Here’s how the evening panned out…

‘Out, And The Olympics’

Beth Fisher

Last year, Beth Fisher was a panellist at our first #AuthenticMe event in Manchester. This time around – and now in her role of ITV Wales Sport correspondent – she was our hostess with the mostest for a fascinating discussion with Olympians past, present and hopefully future.

The Rio 2016 Games featured a record 56 out LGBT athletes, according to data gathered by Outsports. That number represented a significant rise in out Olympians from 23 in London 2012 – and of those 56 in Rio, eight were part of Team GB. 

Outsports also calculated that 47% of the out Rio contingent won medals. In fact, if ‘Team LGBT’ had been a country, it would have made the top 20 in the medals table – both in terms of gold medals, and the overall number of medals won.

Tokyo 2020 hopeful Michael was part of our Olympic panel line-up

Last year’s Winter Games in PyeongChang built on that representation, with 15 out Olympians and some great individual stories, such as Adam Rippon medalling for the USA; Gus Kenworthy’s kiss with his then boyfriend on the slopes; and GB ally Lizzy Yarnold wearing Rainbow Laces with pride.

So what’s next? Outsports estimates there will be over 100 out athletes in Tokyo next summer. What will be the impact of that visibility? Will ‘Team LGBT’ continue to deliver a high medals return? And as a community, how can all of us best support those individual athletes?

Joining us to discuss that were…

Matthew Mitcham is one of the Olympics’ greatest-ever divers, having received the highest single-dive score in Games history when he won 10m platform gold 11 years ago, representing Australia. Having come out publicly in the build-up to Beijing, his triumph also meant that he became the first out gay man to win Olympic gold. Matthew spoke about how he initially quit diving as a young man before then returning to train under a coach who was more inclusive-minded and who understood what made him tick, and how he came out publicly in an interview with a journalist before heading to China in 2008. The latter decision made him a role model to LGBT+ people across the globe, with his gold medal success strengthening that further.

When the BBC Sport website asked readers to vote for their favourite British moment of Rio 2016, they chose the golden girls – the women’s hockey team beating the Netherlands in a penalty shootout to claim victory. It was extraordinary stuff and at the heart of the Team GB triumph in Brazil was their midfield maestro. Susannah Townsend explained how she gained confidence to be her authentic self in an inclusive hockey environment of friends and team-mates that truly supported each other. She described moments along the way that were tricky to navigate, but many more to savour – none more so than standing on the podium as the team were presented with their gold medals. As the team had to line up by number, she found herself in between her captain Kate Richardson-Walsh and Kate’s wife Helen as the national anthem played – the couple stretching to hold hands behind Susannah. It was one of several tales told on the night that touched all our hearts.

Completing our panel was a young man who’s hoping to get his first taste of the Olympics in Tokyo next summer. Born in Britain, Michael Gunning has represented Jamaica in swimming since 2016 and holds three national records. Last year, he also participated in the reality TV dating show ‘The Bi Life’ and was recognised at the recent Attitude Pride Awards. Michael explained his decision to switch to Jamaica, and some of the challenges he’s faced in representing a nation where LGBT+ equality is still a long way from being won. He also spoke about how young people are increasingly reaching out to him on social media and how he tries to help those who might need advice or guidance. 

Here’s some more of what we learned from the chat…

Thanks to Beth, Matthew, Susannah and Michael!

While we’re here, we thoroughly recommend Matthew’s engrossing autobiography ‘Twists and Turns’, which is available from Amazon, World of Books, and Book Depository, among other sellers.

Coming soon… #OFSAwards19!

Vicki Carter

Before we headed to the next panel, we heard from Out for Sport co-chair Vicki Carter, as the volunteer organisation for LGBT-inclusive sports clubs in London and the South East prepares for its 21st Birthday Awards night at City Hall on Friday 1 November.

We’re big supporters of OFS and the tremendous work they do in conjunction with their sports clubs. Vicki explained the background to their forthcoming event, and how she raised a large chunk of the money to put it on by, er, swimming the Channel!

An incredible achievement – and one we’ll never fail to be in awe of. Well done Vicki! Watch below – but no need to follow the link, as the nominations period has now closed.

‘Sharing Stories’

Our second panel of the evening was hosted by the BBC‘s Jack Murley, and was dedicated to his BBC LGBT Sport Podcast, which was nominated for a British Podcast Award earlier this year.

Aslie Pitter and Rowena Purdy, speaking on our ‘Sharing Stories’ panel

When Jack spoke at our first #AuthenticMe event in Salford in 2018, the pod was still in its relative early days and had only just been renamed (having previously been known as ‘The Other Side’). Since then, he’s moved from Jersey to Cornwall; the pod’s profile has been raised by the help of the BBC Sport social media team; and he’s compiled over 50 episodes! Every one is an essential listen, and we’re always proud to share and help amplify them.

Fiona Pocock

For this panel, four previous guests of the podcast were invited to share their stories again with the audience, and explain the impact that putting those stories out there in the sports media space can have. We were joined by…

John Dickinson-Lilley

There were moving accounts – of tougher times relating to coming out, mental health, having to hide your true self, and of incidents of discrimination.

But there were also uplifting stories of falling in love, taking pride in milestone moments, competing visibly, and sporting achievements.

Thank you to Fee, Aslie, Rowena and John for speaking so openly and honestly. We’ve linked off to each of their podcast episodes so if you haven’t heard their stories before, be sure to have a listen.

Here are some takeaways from our audience members…

Among our audience members was a contingent from the charity Sport Allies, who recently produced three powerful short films about inclusive sport with the help of talented students and graduates from the London Film School, and supported by Sky Sports.

The films feature the London Otters Rowing Club; the former England footballer Lianne Sanderson (embedded below); and players and coaches from Manchester Village Spartans RUFC. We showed some clips from the films during a short break – but we’d love you to watch the films in full because they’re all superb!

Check out this thread of tweets to take a look at all three.

‘Our Beautiful Game’

To round off the evening, network lead Jon Holmes chaired a panel featuring four #FootballPeople with diverse experiences in the game, in support of both the Fare network’s campaign Action Weeks in October, and our own network’s support of Women in Football.

In our conversation, we found out more about each guest, and how they had helped to change their environments and workplaces through being themselves in a variety of roles.

Our panelists were…

Joanie talked about her background with Hackney Women FC and the role football can play, as the world’s global sport, on aiding LGBT+ inclusion. In her role as FGG co-president, she described how the Gay Games helps to empower LGBT+ people to take pride and to compete.

Italian football expert Nicky, who came out publicly as transgender in an article and video on The Guardian website in August, discussed how her personal story had been received so positively from both within the football media industry and outside, and what she’s learned about inclusion in general along the way.

Casey‘s journey towards joining Soho FC and playing in the London Unity League as someone who’s non-binary is a relatively unique experience, even in the capital. They talked about how allies – whether they’re gay, bi or straight – can best support their trans and non-binary friends and team-mates, and how playing in a stated inclusive club like Soho has helped to bolster their love of the game.

Bhavisha has recently shared her story within the Charlton Athletic family – she’s a co-chair of Proud Valiants, the Championship club’s LGBT+ fans group – and then more widely in the national media, when the Addicks held their annual Charlton v Homophobia tournament at The Valley in May and when Sky Sports ran an ‘Asians In Football’ strand in September. To be visible as an out Asian woman in football is rare, but Bhavisha has found the response to her articles to have been confidence-building.

Here’s what our audience made of the panel chat…

Thanks to Joanie, Nicky, Casey and Bhavisha, and also to Fare for supporting this panel!

Want to learn more about #AuthenticMe and Sports Media LGBT+? Read our network member Craig Bratt’s feature article in The Sunday Independent. Thanks Craig!

Hosts and panelists

Beth Fisher: “#AuthenticMe 2 had big shoes to fill from the previous year… but where better to communicate the work that Sports Media LGBT+ are doing than the headquarters of Twitter! This year, my role changed from being on the panel to hosting one. And what a panel it was. Filled with imposter syndrome, I listened to the panelists often more as a fan rather than the one meant to be asking the questions.

“Anyone in that room that night will testify how lucky we are to have athletes and people involved in community sport who are willing to put their heads above the parapet to ensure that the world of sport is a better place for our community. There were tears, laughter, sometimes a little anger – and hope. Also, a lot of kindness. Still now, I feel inspired but also more motivated than ever to ensure we continue to make sport a more inclusive place for all.”

Jack Murley: “A career highlight – hosting a panel at Twitter for Sports Media LGBT+’s #AuthenticMe. If you’d have told young me that I’d have ever been in a room of openly #LGBT folks in sport, telling their stories and chewingthe fat, I‘d have laughed you out of town.”

Matthew Mitcham: “Thanks for inviting me. It was great – lots of good stuff came out of it.”

Michael Gunning: “So grateful I was invited along and involved in such a great event!”

Aslie Pitter: “Thanks for a fantastic evening. Well done.”

Fee Pocock: “Fantastic night, chewing the fat on all things LGBT+ in sport. Privileged to be involved, thank you.”

Rowena Purdy: “A terrific evening in London at #AuthenticMe, meeting many inspiring athletes and supporters… a few minutes before I left home, I found I’d been invited to be part of the panel and to share my story as a transgender athlete. We seem to share the same worries and concerns, so being part of #AuthenticMe was a positive experience and personally helpful.  Thanks!”

Nicky Bandini: “Such a privilege to be a part of this last night. Incredibly empowering to share in people’s experiences of coming out in the world of sport – from grassroots organisations right up to Olympic champions. Hope these stories continue to reach those ppl who most need to hear them.”

JP Casey: “Beyond proud and so grateful to have been able to speak about my experiences of being a non-binary person and a Sunday league footballer at #AuthenticMe event… awesome to meet so many other incredible queer athletes and sports fans who understand the whole “don’t shout ‘man on’, I am not a man” conundrum I have.”

Bhavisha Ravji: “What an absolute privilege to be able to share and learn from such an esteemed crowd. Feeling inspired after #AuthenticMe (also we were trending top of twitter London, ahead of GBBO – crazy!!!)”

Audience guests

“We laughed and cried at these incredibly moving coming out stories. Lovely that these brave athletes were able to share their stories and experiences with us” – Lesley Jane Mason

“This is so important! Thanks for organising this excellent event & inviting me to the Twitter HQ to listen to many inspirational people and athletes!” – Anita Asante, Chelsea FC

“Thank you for the invite to last night’s fantastic #AuthenticMe event…. so delighted I got to hear from such great panellists” – Lou Englefield, Pride Sports UK and Football v Homophobia

“Some great conversations from #LGBTQ sport role models… so much progress across the industry but still more to do to ensure we can all be the #AuthenticMe…. thanks for putting on an invaluable event” – Chris Gibbons, Chelsea FC and Inside Inclusion

“An insightful evening at #AuthenticMe! The line up was amazing. Thank you for inspiring me” – Benny Bonsu, Give Me Sport

“#AuthenticMe could apply to anyone to be honest but was a real privilege to be in attendance last night. So many amazing stories and such a positive room of great people” – Troy Townsend, Kick It Out

“We had a great night… So many enlightening stories from the panelists about being #AuthenticMe” – Sports Gazette

“Still buzzing from #AuthenticMe! So inspiring to hear from/meet top #LGBT athletes including Olympic gold medalists Matt Mitcham and Susannah Townsend. Their experiences really spoke to me… So much positivity in the room!” – Richard Morris, Racing Pride UK

“Congratulations on a brilliant night – so glad I could make it! #AuthenticMe” – Jo Currie, BBC Sport

“Thanks so much for inviting me and a broader Stonewall FC contingent to this event this week. All three panels were great, and the panellists superb. It was great to meet and connect with so many fellow travellers, too” – Alex Baker, Stonewall FC chairman

Have your say!

Were you in attendance at #AuthenticMe? Got any ideas for future events? Perhaps you’re interested in getting more involved with Sports Media LGBT+? We’d love to hear from you! Please post a comment or drop us a line via the Contact form or on jon@sportsmedialgbt.com.

Don’t forget – if you’re LGBT+ in sport, you can connect with us and join our community. You might have a story to share, or you work in sports media and comms, or you’d simply like to find out more about what we do. Reach out!

Thank you again for your support, and see you down the line for #AuthenticMe 3…

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