‘Outed at uni, I found my football family’

The boys at ‘A Breath of Fresh Tea’ discuss their journeys in sport as young gay men on the podcast’s second episode…

The decision to launch a podcast that covers LGBT+ life and inclusive sport isn’t something that just happens overnight.

The team behind A Breath of Fresh Tea’ – the new pod featuring players from Stonewall FC – all had to go through a range of experiences in their youth and in football to reach a point where the tea flows naturally.

The pod was the brainchild of Leon Williams, the current secretary of Stonewall FC and a first XI player. He gathered together fellow first-teamers Jay Lemonius (the former Sports Campaigns Manager for the charity Stonewall, now working with the FA) and Ollie Rabie (GP and shift doctor at Homerton Hospital), and also Martyn Richards (reigning Gay Games tennis doubles champion and line umpire). Leon and Martyn are in a long-term relationship.

Episode 1 ‘H2HO’ introduced the gang – and Episode 2, titled ‘Swimming With Options’, delves a little deeper into their early adulthood.

Leon, Jay and Martyn all attended the same university. Participation in sport down the years, and how LGBT+ inclusive it’s been for each of them, forms the bulk of the conversation here, chaired by Jay. The guys reflect on their experiences of coming out, the allies they encountered along the way, and the challenges too.

For Leon, the hyper-masculine environment he encountered was exhausting. “Going to university was a unique experience,” he says on the podcast. “I’ve never seen such an outwardly gay type of banter.

“The ‘lad’ culture was strange. It was perfectly acceptable to kiss another gay and not be labelled as gay – unless you actually were gay. I was outed while at uni and with it being around 2009 on a sports campus, the environment was certainly not welcoming and attitudes were not modern – this caused a huge crash in my mental health.”

The contrast to playing at a gay-friendly football club could not have been greater.

“Going to Stonewall FC has helped,” he adds. “My personal and professional life started to peak in terms of mental health and confidence. Being embraced and being in a family like Stonewall has been a huge benefit to me.”

For Ollie, it’s been a similar story. “I’ve personally flourished and feel a lot more comfortable since joining Stonewall FC – that’s the amazing thing about LGBT+-inclusive sports.

“If things continue to develop in the same way, it’s a huge positive for people who may be struggling with their sexuality, whatever that may be. I’ve definitely made friends for life.”

For Martyn, building confidence took time and he wasn’t able to take ownership of that part of who he was on the tennis court. Now, that’s changed…

I’m comfortable with being out now. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me or if they have a perception that I might be gay. It used to affect my tennis, but now, I use it to my advantage. It was a mixed experience overall.

Martyn Richards

Working in inclusion in sport, Jay’s been able to look closely at the underlying issues from all angles. He talks about this on the podcast: “All the research around LGBT sport participation suggests that LGBT people gravitate towards individual sports, where there’s no pressure to come out to anyone or experience the potential pressure that team sports provide.”

The way to change that is, he says, by showcasing more of the inclusive environments, such as the culture found at Stonewall FC. ‘A Breath of Fresh Tea’ is a vehicle in which to do that, and discuss how to make practical change – as well as chat about the freedoms being out, gay and happy in sport can bring.

“The reason why a lot of LGBT people don’t feel like sport is for them, is that they don’t actually conform to the norms,” adds Jay. “I feel that it’s important to highlight people’s varied experiences to help make change.”

Going forward, Leon wants to bring more people in the conversation.

“When we started the podcast, the aim was to help share our thoughts as we have all had different experiences and come from varied backgrounds,” he explains.

“We’d love the pod to develop into something where it could potentially help other LGBTQ people and hopefully, we can find some great guests to join us and impart their wisdom.”

You can listen to ‘A Breath of Fresh Tea’ podcast now on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or Anchor.fm.

Follow @freshteahun on Instagram and Twitter. You can also email the guys at abreathoffreshteapodcast@gmail.com or drop a question anonymously about a dilemma, medical situation or something else via Curious Cat.

Further reading…

Podcasts: Gay footballers share their stories

‘A Breath of Fresh Tea’ is served up

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