LGBT+ History Month: Sharing stories from UK sport

February provides a perfect opportunity to commemorate important LGBT+ figures from British sports history, and discover new heroes – find out how to get involved…

By Jon Holmes

We love to learn about the LGBT+ stories within our sporting community – and we know there are many that are still yet to be told.

Each of you will have read, watched, and listened to personal histories connected to sport that resonate deeply and put you in the shoes of inspirational figures.

LGBT+ History Month is an important time of year for empathy and education. Instigated by the charity Schools Out UK, it’s been marked in February since 2005, following the ultimately successful attempts to lobby the government to have Section 28 repealed. It seeks to raise awareness of the achievements and contributions of LGBT+ people throughout British history.

Sports Media LGBT+ will be supporting LGBTHM, and we’re encouraging you to contribute too. Perhaps you work in our industry and are interested in producing relevant content? Or maybe you’re aware of a story that’s had an impact on you or someone you know, and deserves to be brought to wider attention?

We’re here to help – contact us! To provide a starting point, we feature here a group of athletes whose journeys in sport have all helped to inspire us and countless others from the community.

The LGBTHM theme for 2021 is ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’. Organisers have selected ‘Five Faces’ to provide representation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and other identities from the ‘+’ of our family acronym.

Three of those five have a sports connection. They are:

Lily Parr (1905-1978)

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the Football Association’s ban on women playing the game on their member grounds. Lily was only 16 years old when the ban came into force and was a rising star in the successful Preston-based Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC side who famously drew a crowd of 53,000 at Goodison Park on Boxing Day 1920.

She continued to play the game into her mid-40s and is thought to have scored over 900 goals, earning her a place among the National Football Museum’s original Hall of Fame inductees. In recent years, she has become an LGBT+ icon having been known to have lived with her partner Mary, who she met while both were working at a psychiatric hospital.

Read more about Lily Parr on the NFM Hall of Fame website.

Belinda Scarlett from the National Football Museum helps to tell the story of Lily Parr

Michael Dillon (1915-1962)

The first trans man to undergo phalloplasty, Dillon was an accomplished rower who won an Oxford Blue when studying at women’s college St Anne’s before his transition. He began an experimental form of hormone therapy in his mid 20s, and after World War Two, he enrolled in medical school at Trinity College, Dublin, where he again excelled in rowing, this time with the men’s team.

He qualified as a physician and worked as a naval surgeon, until his sex-reassignment surgery became public knowledge. Unwanted press attention led him to move to India, where sadly his health failed, leading to his death at the age of 47.

Join Bristol Museums’ Zoom event on Michael Dillon on February 10 (3pm)

Cheryl Morgan, co-chair of OutStories Bristol, discusses the city’s connection to Michael Dillon

Mark Weston (1905-1978)

One of Britain’s best field athletes of the 1920s and nicknamed ‘The Devonshire Wonder’, Plymouth-born Weston was initially given the name Mary and was a national champion in javelin, discus, and shot put, representing England in the 1926 Women’s World Games in Gothenburg and Great Britain in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.

DSDs (differences of sexual development) led Weston to seek surgery soon after his 31st birthday, and then change name to Mark. Within months, he had married Alberta and the couple would go on to have three children and continue to live in the Devon village where he grew up, until his death at the age of 73.

Learn more about Mark Weston in this Plymouth Live article (June 2020)

Eric Rickard from Pride in Plymouth says Mark Weston’s story had a profound impact on him

As well as learning about the stories of Lily, Michael, and Mark (and please do contact us if you can add more to our knowledge!), we’re also keen to profile other athletes and sporting figures from our community. Maybe their stories deserve to be shared in LGBT+ History Month – or perhaps they are more recent, but also powerful.

For more ideas, check out the Sport section of The Queerstory Files, the excellent blog from Tony Scupham-Bilton which also features his invaluable lists of LGBT Summer Olympians and LGBT Winter Olympians.

With Channel 4 drama ‘It’s A Sin’ currently helping to improve education around the HIV / AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, here are two more British sports stars who were victims of the virus and were taken from us too soon…

John Curry (1949-1994)

Curry won figure-skating gold at the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck in February 1976, and a month later, he also claimed the World Championships title in Gothenburg. In between the two events, the 26-year-old was outed as gay by a German tabloid newspaper.

Despite this, he went on to be named the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in December. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1987 and died of an AIDS-related heart attack at the age of 44. The excellent 2018 documentary ‘The Ice King’ tells the story of his life and is available on streaming services.

Read more about John Curry and ‘The Ice King’ in our article from 2018.

Mike Beuttler (1940-1988)

Beuttler rose up through the ranks of Formulas Three and Two before making his F1 debut in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1971, when he drove for the March-Ford team. He went on to enter 28 more GPs, achieving five top-10 finishes including in his final F1 race, the United States GP in October 1973.

He later moved to the US and died in Los Angeles at the age of 48 from complications resulting from AIDS.

In April 2020, our friends at Racing Pride created a superb short film about his life…

Read more about Mike Beuttler on the Racing Pride website.

See forthcoming LGBT+ in sports events, including those to mark LGBT+ History Month in February, on our Calendar.

Sports Media LGBT+ is a network, advocacy, and consultancy group that is helping to build a community of LGBT+ people and allies in sport. Learn more about us here.

LGBT+ in sports? Your story could help to inspire other people – you don’t have to be famous to make an impact, and there are huge gains to be made both personally and more widely in sport. Start a conversation with us, in confidence, and we’ll give you the best advice on navigating this part of your journey. Email or send a message anonymously on our Curious Cat.