Our annual event in the build-up to Coming Out Day was a glorious, globe-spanning get-together made possible by inspirational guests, our partners at Pride Sports and Pride of the Terraces, and host Jack Murley whose BBC LGBT Sport Podcast recently hit its double centenary. Here’s what happened and some of the words of wisdom shared…
“Organised chaos” – but outstanding chat! This year, Sports Media LGBT+’s annual #AuthenticMe event was an hour-long live stream broadcast celebrating 200 episodes of Jack Murley’s BBC LGBT Sport Podcast.
With a dozen great guests dropping in, a highly entertaining evening was had by all.
With Jack hosting from his home ‘studio’ in Cornwall, and friends from our community of LGBTQ+ people and allies in sport Zoom-ing in across the globe, we were all able to connect up once again thanks to our partners Pride Sports, supported by Pride of the Terraces.
First up, Jo Currie joined the event live from the set of Sportsday on the BBC News Channel, just minutes before going on air in her role as Women’s Sport Correspondent.
Back in February, BBC Sport had produced a month-long showcase of stories in support of LGBT History Month, with Jack and Jo able to reflect on the enjoyment and satisfaction they and their colleagues had taken from producing the content.
“It was probably one of the best projects I’ve been involved with since I’ve been at BBC Sport,” said Jo.
“We said, ‘let’s try and get a piece out every single day’ – we did over 50 in the end, and this podcast was such a huge part of it. And we celebrated every letter of LGBTQ+ too!”
Jo was a guest on Jack’s podcast back in February 2019 and in their catch-up chat, she talked about her journey towards self-confidence with regards to sexuality.
“Ten years ago, the number of people who were out was so few and far between. Unless you have that visibility, those role models, those inspirations, the next generation don’t feel comfortable doing it. But now, there are more out people in sport and they make it more comfortable for others to be their #AuthenticMe.
“I have the best job in the world, I get to cover women’s sport day in, day out! But when I joined BBC Sport, I wasn’t completely comfortable telling everyone that I was gay – it took a couple of years.
“These days, I work with a wonderful set of people and I’ve never been more comfortable at work being who I am. I hope other young gay women and men coming through in our industry feel the same.”
Read more from Jo in our Q&A with her from Lesbian Visibility Week 2020.
Crossing to Twickenham where she had been speaking at the Leaders In Sport event, two-time Paralympic rowing gold medallist Lauren Rowles was next to join the Drop-In, with Jack asking her about the impact of LGBTQ+ visibility at the Olympics in Tokyo and subsequently, in the Paralympics too.
“There was some momentum there before we went away, but I don’t think we felt the effect of the Team LGBTQ+ narrative until we got out of the Games,” she said. “We started to see so much interest in LGBTQ+ athletes. Everyone from the community was represented and it was so powerful – we stood as a collective.”
Since coming home, Lauren and her girlfriend Jude Hamer have been busier than ever and one of their favourite days was getting to be at Birmingham Pride on the Pride House Birmingham float.
“Our voices are being heard now and we want to lean into that and support Pride House as much as possible,” she added.
“With the Commonwealth Games happening in Birmingham – my home city – it’s incredible to go out there and be proud to be LGBTQ+, educate the masses, and fight for our rights as athletes within sport.”
And it was Jude herself who was next up – from the slightly less glamorous surrounds of Leicester Services! She also shared her reflections on Birmingham Pride.
“Everyone’s there being themselves, there’s no judgement from everyone – it’s a great party atmosphere. I noticed this year, being bisexual myself, that there were more people talking about the spectrum of sexuality and that was exciting for me, to see that being so openly celebrated.
“To meet people who are the same sexuality as you, have similar experiences to you, view the world in a similar way to you, just makes you feel more seen and more represented.”
Jude will be hoping to qualify for the 3×3 wheelchair basketball squad representing Scotland at the Commonwealth Games next summer, alongside her ParalympicsGB team-mate Robyn Love, who also then Zoomed in from the motorway services sat alongside her fiancee, Laurie Williams.
All three women are reigning World Championship silver medallists but alas, Tokyo didn’t deliver a Paralympics podium spot for Great Britain. Despite the disappointment, they are hungry to get back to competitive action and the European Championships are coming up in Madrid in December. “It’s a great stage for us to show what we’re made of and how resilient we are as a team,” said Love.
When Jack interviewed Robyn and Laurie for the podcast in February 2020, it was just days after they had got engaged during a city break to Paris…
“Did I book you both to come on, and then you got engaged that weekend? I was like, well this is fabulous!”Jack Murley
The pictures of the couple beneath the Eiffel Tower went viral on social media. “It’s really important news you want to share with the world. When I picked up my phone, thousands of people had liked the photo! It’s so nice to get that feedback and see people celebrating love like that.”
Robyn has no doubt that their story will have inspired other LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities. “You have to see stuff in order for you to sometimes try and create that pathway yourself, for you to have the confidence in yourself to do that.
“For Laurie and I, there aren’t necessarily as many role models – sometimes you have to be the ones blazing the trail.”
Michael Gunning has certainly blazed a trail, not just as one of very few out gay men in international swimming, but also as a black swimmer.
He’s recently been an Attitude magazine cover model and is exploring new opportunities in TV and entertainment after missing out on the chance to compete in Tokyo, a result of governing body FINA’s decision to award just one “universality place” to Jamaica and the pressures of the pandemic severely impacting upon his potential to hit the qualifying time he needed.
July and August were understandably difficult as he processed the turn of events. Now, however, he’s bringing all his energy and embracing new horizons.
“Right now, I’m so happy, I’m just radiating positivity!” Michael told Jack. “This community is just wonderful and the support that I’ve had has just been incredible.”
One cause that will remain close to his heart is “championing diversity” and you can be sure he will continue to be a voice for inclusion in sport, as he showed in the interview that accompanied his Attitude cover.
“One of the big things about me was the colour of my skin. Racism, and different things that I’ve experienced – some things I hadn’t necessarily spoken about before – it was so nice to open up and be honest [in the article], and show everyone that sometimes we do struggle, and it’s not just about being gay. I’ll definitely carry on to champion that, in whatever I do.”
In our most ambitious live link-up attempt, we then crossed to a beach in El Salvador in an attempt to speak to Luke Strong, who won World Championship silver in trampoline gymnastics four years ago.
And after some initial sound issues, the connection was struck! “I’m currently living my best life and trying to see what life is like outside of sport,” Luke told Jack. He went travelling a few months ago as the pandemic began to ease; his podcast episode aired in July 2020 and made global headlines.
“I’d never spoken about it [my sexuality] in public before but I’m not embarrassed or scared to tell my story,” he told Jack when asked about the reaction.
“I woke up one morning and my name was all over the internet! But the reaction was really good. I’d actually done the podcast before I’d even told some of my family – I was like, ‘surprise!’
“I got a bunch of messages from people in trampolining, gymnastics, and other sports, just saying thank you, and that me being so open and honest has helped them be who they are.
“I’d just say it’s a good thing for anyone in high-profile sport to do, because a lot of sports aren’t [representative] like that.”
It’s still true for the majority of LGBTQ+ people that it takes significant courage to be truly authentic in sport, wherever they are in the world. For footballers Natalie Washington and Sammy Walker, campaigning for Football v Transphobia and for trans inclusion more widely in society – amid growing prejudice and the furore created by the Sports Councils’ newly-issued guidance – it’s an ongoing act of bravery just to be out and visible in the beautiful game.
They recently took part in the first match of TRUK United FC, the new inclusive club created by referee Lucy Clark which is already providing opportunities for trans and non-binary to get back into playing in a competitive and welcoming environment.
“It reminds us the game should be for everyone – it’s an inclusive game,” Natalie told Jack. “And it’s lovely to have time on the pitch and just forget about all that other stuff going on. To have a full XI of trans players would be the next aim.”
When Sammy shared her powerful story with Jack on the podcast in October 2019, a front-page article soon followed on the BBC Sport website.
“Football’s been one of the few constants in my life – I never lost that love for the game,” she said. “Being part of a team I think is so important to people’s mental health and self-worth, to your self-esteem, to be valued. Stepping away from football was really difficult and it was like a part of me was missing.”
The Football v Transphobia Week of Action will return in March 2022 but the campaigning continues all year round, says Natalie. “We talk a lot about how LGBTQ+ people often get ostracised or distances from our communities.
“Sport is one of those ways where we get connected so having that taken away [during the pandemic] was hard work for a lot of people. Now that stuff is hopefully opening up again and becoming safer, we need to make sure we incorporate inclusivity.”
Issues relating to anti-LGBTQ+ language in rugby league were one reason why Super League referee James Child asked to be a guest on the Podcast as February 2021 drew to a close.
“My family, friends, colleagues had long since known [I was gay],” James told Jack during the Drop-In. “I just took the view that I was a little bit fed up of receiving homophobic abuse during matches, and felt that it would be a stronger stance for me to publicly speak about my sexuality, and then should anybody wish to continue to abuse me for being gay, then they’d be doing so in the knowledge that I was.”
In the last week, the RFL punished Bradford Bulls following a match in June in which a small group of the club’s fans directed abuse at James. While disappointing, he feels it was an isolated incident, and that the positives from him doing the podcast far outweigh the negatives.
“This season, abuse has reduced – there has only been this one case that has now been determined. More importantly, fans who are LGBTQ+ have spoken to me about it, or fans who want to talk about friends and relatives who are LGBTQ+ have approached me. It was former rugby guests on the podcast whose stories had most resonated with me, and helped me arrive at my decision to do it at that particular time.
“And I have absolutely no regrets about doing so. I remember having a conversation internally with the RFL about how I’d do it – an alternative, with the national press, was suggested.
“That wasn’t what I wanted to do. The reason I wanted to do it on the podcast was that it wasn’t just a coming out story, it was a story about me being involved in sport, and it would be my words and my expressions and it wouldn’t be up to somebody else to interpret those words into an article. For me, it was the perfect way to do it.”
Racing driver Richard Morris was answering the questions on the 50th episode of the podcast in July 2019, soon after Racing Pride had been founded.
Since then, the LGBTQ+ inclusion in motorsport movement has flourished and they recently announced a major partnership with the Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team.
“It’s a game changer,” said Richard. “It means we can make more of an impact. Now we have several activations that we’re able to do internationally, such as Sebastian Vettel using his platform at the Hungarian Grand Prix to talk about some of the issues there.”
Vettel was recently alongside Matt Bishop on a special Allies episode of the podcast where they talked about his decision to wear a rainbow ‘Same Love’ T-shirt and other motifs during the Hungaroring weekend.
“Seeing that happen was enormously satisfying,” added Richard. “Seb took the bull by the horns – it made it meaningful because it was so genuine.
“My first boyfriend had models of Seb in his bedroom, and we were broken up by his parents not accepting him being gay, basically. I thought what it would mean to him to see his hero saying I care about people like you. And that song ‘Same Love’ by Macklemore has always resonated with me as well.”
Richard’s season in the Britcar Endurance Praga category concludes at Donington on October 23, and we wish him every success – his CW Performance team tops the standings going into the final round.
Last on the Drop-In, but certainly not least, Jack caught up with wrestler Cassius The Neon Explosion whose September 2020 episode is one of the most joyful and feelgood in the back catalogue.
“That’s how I feel every time I’m in the ring, I’m so excited to be there!” he said. “There was a long time where it was just a hope, just a dream. But by the time I finally became a wrestler, it was like ‘this is what I was put on earth to do.'”
There’s authenticity in abundance with Cassius, but he says it wasn’t always that way. “Before wrestling, I was so shy. I feel like if it wasn’t for wrestling, I’d have been in the closet for my whole life, probably. For a long time, I felt being who I am as a gay man is going to hinder my success and my career. When I realised that wasn’t the case, it changed my whole life.”
He’s recently been seen on Saturday night primetime TV on ITV’s Game of Talents show – and perhaps even bigger, he then got to be discussed on Gogglebox as well!
As we closed the live stream event, we did so knowing there are many, many more stories still out there just waiting to be shared, that they all matter, and that the next 200 episodes of the LGBT Sport Podcast – and all the episodes beyond that – will bring them to us, inspiring listeners old and new and also those who discover the stories elsewhere on BBC Sport.
Already this week, there have been two more episodes – Olympic silver medal-winning shot putter Raven Saunders, and intrepid rock climber Lor Sabourin. Check them out!
Sunday, October 10 is World Mental Health Day, and Monday, October 11, is Coming Out Day. Whether these are the times in the calendar when you or your loved ones feel ready to talk about finding your #AuthenticMe in sport, or if that’s a conversation for another day, our event this year was truly a celebration of all those in our community.
A big thank you to Jack Murley, all our guests and attendees, Pride Sports, and Pride of the Terraces – connect with them all through social media, or we can put you in touch. We’d love to hear from you too, and we hope to see you soon in person for another event!
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