Special guests Bruce Mouat, Robyn Love and Lloyd Wilson share stories from their experiences of being LGBTQ+ and out at the Olympics, Paralympics and in Scottish football respectively; Blair Hamilton, Zyra Evangelista (Rainbow Glasgaroos) and Ross Lockerbie (Glasgow Raptors) speak powerfully on grassroots panel
In late October, Sports Media LGBT+ staged its sixth annual #AuthenticMe event – this time heading north of the border to Glasgow.
‘A Celebration of Scottish Sporting Pride’ featured panel discussions with prominent figures from the world of elite sport, as well as some of those making a real difference on the ground with grassroots clubs.
Working alongside our friends at LEAP Sports Scotland, with support from the Sports Journalists’ Association, the venue for the event was the University of Strathclyde Students’ Union which also served as something of a showcase for the work of my own platform, Pride of the Terraces, as well as kicking off LEAP’s conference, which was being held in the same city the following day.
With coaches, athletes, activists, fans and governing bodies in attendance, a welcome period allowed for networking and the start of discussions before the panels even began.
‘We’re on the right track’
Then, LEAP’s Heidi Vistisen and Sports Media LGBT+’s network lead Jon Holmes got the formalities started, with Jon explaining the history of #AuthenticMe events before handing over to me to host the first panel on elite sports. All the guests are interviewees from Pride of the Terraces in 2022.
🏴🌈 Our #AuthenticMe Glasgow event is underway! @ahenderson96 from @PrideofTerraces speaking to @Robyn_Love13, Lloyd Wilson and @BruceMouat on our #LGBTQ elite sports panel— Sports Media LGBT+ (@SportsMediaLGBT) October 27, 2022
🙏 Thanks so much to @LEAPsports @StrathUnion and @SportSJA for making tonight happen #RainbowLaces pic.twitter.com/PiDw2fpYUD
I gave a brief overview of the work I do and the website before introducing the three panelists – curling world mixed doubles champion and Olympic silver medalist Bruce Mouat; category one football referee and one of the first figures in Scottish men’s football to come out, Lloyd Wilson; and two-time Paralympian and member of Team Scotland’s 3×3 wheelchair basketball team at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Robyn Love.
Just a couple of weeks before #AuthenticMe, Love and her partner Laurie Williams announced that they were expecting, and she spoke of the reaction to that news being overwhelmingly positive and how important it was to see female athletes becoming parents, as well as how the last few years convinced them family should be their priority.
In fact, support from partners was a recurring theme across the night as Wilson and Mouat each also told stories about the love and encouragement they had received.
So grateful to our athletes for sharing stories of #comingout, travelling to places with anti-#LGBTQ laws & being visible on social media— Sports Media LGBT+ (@SportsMediaLGBT) October 27, 2022
Robyn, Lloyd & Bruce also talking about the strength they draw from their partners – Laurie, Hamish & Craig respectively 💕 #AuthenticMe 🏴🌈 pic.twitter.com/E02sDVso5J
Another similarity between the elite sports panellists, though, was the topic of major sporting events taking place in countries that are not friendly to LGBTQ+ people. When Mouat won an Olympic silver medal earlier this year, it was in Beijing – and he spoke about what it was like in the athletes’ village – while Wilson and millions of football fans around the world are gearing up for a FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Love, meanwhile, faces the prospect of a World Championships in Dubai next year, and elaborated on what could be done by governing bodies to reassure athletes that there will be no issues.
“We’ve personally heard nothing about it – no reassurances have been made – and that’s scary,” she said.
“We hear about things happening, and I wonder what’s going to happen to me if I talk about my relationship. For a governing body, it’s your responsibility to ask as many questions as possible.
“In my position, I want the governing body to be as concerned as I am, put themselves in my position and think of the questions and have the answers before I even have to ask them. They do that through communication – with their athletes, with organisations like LEAP Sports, those relationships are so important.”
Love was part of a Scottish Commonwealth Games squad earlier this year that had a fully LGBTQ+ team on the court at times, and she also spoke of how important the visibility of other athletes was to her.
Men’s football is a sport where visibility has significantly increased over the last 12 months or so, ranging from Josh Cavallo coming out as gay in October last year through to Blackpool youngster Jake Daniels in the summer, Scottish referees Craig Napier and Wilson soon after, and then Gala Fairydean Rovers striker Zander Murray in September.
Murray recently shared a message he had received on social media from a young footballer who came out to his teammates and had a “super supportive” response.
Hopefully such a reaction will encourage that teenager to continue in sport like Murray and Wilson have, but not everyone is so fortunate. As far as Wilson is concerned, the way to prevent talent from being lost to the sport in the future is to reach as many allies as possible.
Wilson explained: “My opinion very much is that allies are crucial. I can only speak for football, but I think those who don’t identify as LGBT+ have a massive role to play in promoting inclusion in football.
“A Premiership club put a tweet out about Rainbow Laces, and they got a bit of backlash from that. I think that’s the wrong approach, because sometimes people feel like they’re being forced into believing something or supporting something.
“People on the pitch – players, referees, managers, whoever it is – have a role to play here. It’s not about governing bodies necessarily forcing that on people, because people will have things they want to promote. I’m biased, I want them to promote Rainbow Laces, but the Scottish FA has been working with LEAP Sports around promoting inclusion, and it’s great that we’re thinking about these strategies and aims.
“We’re making good starts, and we’ve got a long, long way to go, but it’s about people like Zander as an active player, Jake Daniels, Josh Cavallo, helping people feel more able to be themselves. That visibility is crucial, and the more players from a younger age that see people who are gay without it becoming a topic, that’s where we need to get to and naturally things will move from there. I think a bit more work needs to be done there, but we’re on the right track.”
Another prevalent topic was dealing with the media – both social and mainstream. Mouat shared his thoughts on how to approach social media and coping with a sudden influx of national media attention.
Love then addressed how para-sport could lead the way for trans inclusion in sport, before it was time for audience questions. One of the standout topics raised was whether or not it was fair for LGBTQ+ figures to speak out against injustices outwith their control – a question Mouat took the microphone to answer.
“When I was going to Beijing, a lot of questions were asked about gay rights and human rights, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to answer them diplomatically,” he responded.
“I was a part of Team GB for the first time, so I had to be careful of what I was saying and hold back opinions a little bit. LGBT+ people are putting pressure on ourselves to be the ones giving the answers, but we’re really just giving the guidance.
“We’re trying to help them understand that they’re putting LGBT+ people in sport in very dangerous situations where they can almost ruin their careers if they say something wrong, which is very scary. I did feel that a wee bit.”
‘We give people the right resources’
On to the grassroots panel then, where Glasgow city councillor Holly Bruce – herself a member of local inclusive football team Camp Hellcats – took over as moderator.
🏴 On to our grassroots panel at #AuthenticMe Glasgow – @cllrhollybruce is joined by @Blair90x ⚽️, @glasgaroos’ @evangelista_zy 🏀 and @Glasgow_Raptors’ @RossLockerbie 🏉— Sports Media LGBT+ (@SportsMediaLGBT) October 27, 2022
All of them doing amazing work to help make sport more #LGBTQ+ inclusive 👏🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️ @LEAPsports #RainbowLaces pic.twitter.com/rKkdOwYvHD
Her guests were footballer and lead researcher for the Tavistock Transgender Athlete Study, Blair Hamilton; co-founder of inclusive basketball team Rainbow Glasgaroos, Zy Evangelista; and player, coach and chair of inclusive rugby club Glasgow Raptors, Ross Lockerbie.
With #AuthenticMe taking place on the same day as the Gender Recognition Reform Bill passing its first stage in the Scottish Parliament and such expertise on the panel, the decisions taken by some governing bodies to ban trans athletes from participating in their sports was always going to come to the forefront of the discussion at some point.
Of course, with trans participation in sport becoming one of the major battles for inclusion, it was a hot topic that Hamilton spoke eloquently on. She discussed governing bodies’ approaches, what she would like to see decision-makers do going forward as well as having to deal with the harassment that comes with being a trans rights activist, while touching on the impacts of governing bodies’ policies.
Real, tangible impact on people’s lives was something Evangelista and Lockerbie were also able to discuss. Both are at the forefront of inclusive clubs, and dealt with some of the challenges they had faced in making spaces as inclusive as they can be – including some things they had to be mindful of that may not immediately come to mind when thinking about inclusion.
“We don’t just talk about LGBTQ+ inclusion,” Lockerbie said of the Raptors’ efforts.
“We’ve had a big shift on the inclusion side so that it’s not just about going to the pub on a Saturday night. We have a lot of members who deal with sobriety, so we are pushing towards doing a lot more social stuff off the pitch that allows them to come and enjoy themselves.
“Within LGBTQ+, there’s a really big stigma around mental health issues, so we’re really trying to drive support for that on and off the pitch. We don’t get it right all the time, we don’t have all the answers, but we work with great organisations to direct us and help us give people the support we need.
“We’ve got someone dedicated to welfare on our committee who deals with mental health or any other issues like that. It’s horrible seeing teammates struggling, but we all come together as a committee and as a team to make sure we give people the right resources as and when they’re needed.”
With LGBTQ+ rugby being featured in different productions like In From The Side, the Kings Cross Steelers documentary and Heartstopper in recent times, Lockerbie explained how important representation in pop culture could be; as well as what it is like to go from feeling like sport is not a welcoming place to competing in International Gay Rugby tournaments like the Bingham Cup and Hadrian’s Cup.
🏴 So much great stuff in this panel – @evangelista_zy on the need for more #nonbinary representation in sport to help with education; @Blair90x on her pioneering research into trans athletes; @RossLockerbie on #inclusiverugby being recognised more in the sport and in pop culture pic.twitter.com/LxSxapeSdP— Sports Media LGBT+ (@SportsMediaLGBT) October 27, 2022
It remains fairly rare, though, to see visibility of non-binary identities in sport in the UK. That was where Evangelista contributed with unique expertise, explaining how vital clubs like the Glasgaroos has been to their involvement in sport, and what they would like to see more of going forward.
“My gender identity is something that I’m still figuring out if I’m being completely honest, but in the last couple of years I started thinking I might be non-binary,” they said.
“It was great that by that point, the Glasgaroos had already started. The ethos of the group is that it’s for everyone, and I love being able to play in a mixed gender team.
“What I still struggle with – and this might seem kind of silly – is that in basketball you get different sized basketballs for men and women. What am I supposed to use? What are you supposed to use in a mixed gender team?
“I wish we could see more mixed gender teams and tournaments – I don’t even want to call them mixed gender, just tournaments where it doesn’t even matter.”
Finally, Hamilton brought the panel to a close with an appeal for participants in future studies she hopes to conduct, before one final chance for the audience, chairs, organisers and panellists to mix to discuss the panels before calling it a night.
Thank you to Andrew and Pride of the Terraces, to Heidi, Hugh and the team at LEAP Sports, to the University of Strathclyde Students’ Union, and to the Sports Journalists’ Association for supporting our #AuthenticMe event – and also to all our panellists and attendees on the night!
Sports Media LGBT+ is a network, advocacy, and consultancy group that is helping to build a community of LGBTQ+ people and allies in sport. We’re also a digital publisher. Learn more about us here.
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