The Sports Media LGBT+ Review of 2022: Brittney freed, Pride of Lionesses and Jake’s joy

Published by Jon Holmes on

No more lockdowns but lots of upheaval in 2022; Heartstopper made us happy cry, and we shed tears of joy at Wembley in late July; there was advocacy for freedom and authenticity around the Commonwealth Games and Qatar 2022, with mixed results; all that and more in our annual lookback at the year just gone…

By Jon Holmes

Brittney Griner’s homecoming hug with wife Cherelle; Leah Williamson congratulates Beth Mead; out and proud Jake Daniels

The end of social distancing and self-isolations brought us all closer together in 2022 but there were still wedge issues that impacted heavily on our community of LGBTQ+ people and allies in sport.

In football, the exhilaration of cheering on the Lionesses to Euros glory on home soil turned to exasperation four months later when the men’s World Cup in Qatar kicked off a wave of homophobia.

At times, hearts sank – but scattered throughout the year were courageous coming-out stories, moments of bold athlete activism, and plenty of examples of outstanding journalism and content creation.

Going month-by-month, selecting a headline story, other assorted news lines and a video of recommended viewing, here’s our look back at 2022…

January: Fans help to outlaw homophobic chant

“Vile and disgusting” – this is how the Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill QC, described racist and homophobic abuse at football matches, after several incidents at FA Cup third-round ties. Hill spoke to the media as the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that the slur “rent boy” – often used to insult Chelsea players – would now be considered discriminatory and a potential hate crime offence, the result of sterling campaigning by LGBTQ+ fan group leaders Tracy Brown (Chelsea Pride), Chris Paouros (Proud Lilywhites), Paul Amann (Kop Outs!) and others.

“Some may argue it’s harmless banter,” Hill told the Daily Mirror’s Jacob Leeks, “but it means people who are being discriminated against feel less welcome to enjoy a match and support their team in person.” More education around anti-LGBTQ+ language and behaviour in football is needed, however – in late October, a small section of Manchester United fans would be heard chanting the same slur.

Also in January… Advocacy for LGBT+ rights is mentioned in Tom Daley’s OBE citation; UK ice hockey celebrates its third annual Pride Week (and it’ll be back for 2023); Liam Broady wears Rainbow Laces at the Australian Open, which holds its first-ever Pride Day; LA Dodgers VP Erik Braverman marries Jonathan Cottrell at Dodger Stadium; strong bi representation as Regan Gascoigne and Karina Manta win ITV’s Dancing on Ice (and The Vivienne will be skating in Season 15!); Channel 4 releases ‘Football’s Coming Out’ documentary

Watch Regan and Karina’s take on the classic Boléro, made famous by Torvill and Dean in 1984

February: The fight to #FreeBG

As pain and destruction began to tear through countless lives due to Russia’s war against Ukraine, the detention of an LGBTQ+ athlete – arrested at a Moscow airport just a week before the invasion – became one of the year’s biggest stories. Olympic gold medallist and multiple WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner would spend nearly 10 months stuck in the Russian penal system, with the battle by wife Cherelle and family and friends to bring her home to Phoenix eventually ending in a prisoner swap.

Speaking after Griner’s release, National Black Justice Coalition director Victoria Kirby Johnson said: “Brittney is an icon not only to the Black LGBTQ+/same-gender-loving community, but to people around the world. Now, she has also become a symbol of hope for the many other people who remain wrongfully detained abroad and the families who remain broken until their loved ones return home.” Griner has vowed to do all she can to help secure the freedom of fellow US citizen Paul Whelan, imprisoned in a Russian labour camp.

Also in February… Leicester and Foxes Pride do awards double to round off Football v Homophobia Month of Action; John Curry is remembered in superb BBC documentary ‘Floating on Ice’ as UK’s LGBT+ History Month marks ‘Politics in Art’ theme; Pride in Tennis is latest LGBTQ+ network in UK sport to launch, with strong LTA support; Bruce Mouat speaks powerfully on allyship and Team Mouat take silver in men’s curling at Winter Olympics, where Mouat is one of at least 36 out LGBTQ+ athletes competing; teams’ boycott of Super 5 League puts renewed focus on trans and non-binary inclusion in grassroots football; Rally app makes it easier to connect to local LGBTQ+-inclusive sports clubs

Stonewall FC featured on BT Sport’s Life Stories for LGBT+ History Month

March: Tumult surrounds trans athletes

Emily Bridges

March ends with Trans Day of Visibility but this month in 2022, it felt like the spotlight was on trans athletes throughout, in a constant swirl of controversy. At the NCAA Championships in Atlanta, Lia Thomas won the women’s 500-yard freestyle title, while Iszac Henig – with ‘Let Trans Kids Play’ written on his arm – also earned All-America honours at the same meet.

Across the pond, the UCI determined that Emily Bridges was ineligible to race in women’s competitions, blocking her ambition to represent Wales in the Commonwealth Games. Intense media scrutiny and debate referencing Bridges often descended into outright transphobia and reporters doorstepped the family home. Upon the release of the ITV Wales documentary ‘Race To Be Me’ later in 2022, Bridges would write: “I somehow got through the spring with my mental health relatively intact”. The pressure impacted upon her love of cycling but she would take part in inclusive competitions and was supported by many in the sport’s community to find comfort on her bike again. “Despite everything, this has been the best year of my life,” she added.

Also in March… TRUK United FC fields history-making team of trans women in friendly match at Dulwich Hamlet to conclude Football v Transphobia Week of Action; Matt Carter’s gay rugby romance ‘In From The Side’ has its world premiere at the BFI Flare Festival; the Include Summit in Birmingham brings together ED&I changemakers from across British sport; Megan Rapinoe joins Pernille Harder and Magda Eriksson for an inspirational conversation about athlete advocacy on ‘The HangOUT’ on Sky Sports

Chelsea stars Pernille Harder and Magda Eriksson Zoomed with the legendary Megan Rapinoe

April: A reason to pause and reflect on Heartstopper

How many people worldwide have watched Heartstopper? It’s hard to find an exact figure but we do know the LGBTQ+ coming-of-age comedy-drama – in which rugby had a starring role – racked up around 50 million views in its first two weeks of release. Interestingly, three countries in which it ranked in Netflix’s Top 10 – Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Sri Lanka – have anti-gay laws, suggesting it might be helping to sow seeds of change.

With a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score and an outpouring of love, it’s already a queer touchpoint, resonating across generations and demographics. We don’t yet have a release date in 2023 for Season 2 but while we waited for the return to our screens of Charlie and Nick, the actor who plays the latter – Kit Connor – provided a deeply personal update in late October. If the point of the show is about the importance of giving people time and space to understand their sexuality and gender identity, it’s truly sad that one of its teenage stars felt forced into having to come out publicly as bi to try to end accusations of queerbaiting. Sigh.

Also in April… Anna Tregubova tells us about the effect of war on NRG, a football club for women and non-binary people in Ukraine; we hold an #AuthenticMe event at the Sporting Pride Conference in Birmingham and launch the Pride House Podcast; Shura speaks about ‘What’s It Gonna Be?’ being on the Heartstopper soundtrack while Flo Lloyd-Hughes and Becky Taylor-Gill discuss the ‘They’re lesbians, Stacey’ T-shirts on two special FvH Pod episodes for Lesbian Visibility Week; power couple Lauren Price and Karriss Artingstall sign for BOXXER; Telegraph Women’s Sport produces an insightful special issue on trans athletes

Fall in love with the Heartstopper cast in two minutes… watch the behind-the-scenes bloopers

May: Daniels’ story sparks hope – and hypocrisy 

‘I don’t want to lie any more’ was the headline on the i’s front page on May 17 above a picture of Jake Daniels, while Metro, The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent also marked the significance of the Blackpool footballer’s coming-out story on their front pages. So did The Sun, and the paper also ran an inside editorial saying “we hope Jake proves the sport is changing”. What didn’t change, of course, was the same paper running sensationalised accounts of mystery gay and bi male players – they had one less than a week later, claiming an ex-England player was going to come out in a TV documentary, another on a similar theme in October, and another in November headlined ‘Two Premier League team-mates in a relationship’.

Daniels’ own story, carried with sensitivity and responsible discussion on Sky Sports, was almost derailed by a Sun teaser story published a day before. He would tell Vogue later in the year: “If we’re going to move football forwards, then people need to be accountable.” The media’s fascination with the sexuality of closeted male footballers continues to be a classic example of ‘power without responsibility’, happily trading off people’s natural curiosity through clickbait and sales while denouncing the rampant online homophobia that their gossipy feeding frenzy always manages to stir up. 

Also in May… Norwich’s LGBTQ+ fans group Proud Canaries celebrates Jake Daniels’ ‘Gamechanger’ moment at Carrow Road; Dr Nas Mohamed speaks to international media about being gay, making him the world’s first-ever publicly out Qatari, ahead of the FIFA World Cup in his homeland; amateur player Zack Leader discusses the damaging effect of homophobia on the FvH Podcast; Idrissa Gueye sits out PSG’s Ligue 1 match at Montpellier, reportedly due to team jerseys having shirt numbers in rainbow colours to mark the International Day Against Homophobia; Village Manchester FC lift the GFSN Cup in Dublin; BT Sport airs Buzz16’s ‘Playing with Pride’ round-table chat; out gay referee James Child takes charge of rugby league’s Challenge Cup final

PFA chief executive Maheta Molango discussed Jake Daniels’ coming out on SSN, alongside Sports Media LGBT+’s Jon Holmes

June: Maybelle’s magical message

Several special coming-out stories in sport were told in Pride Month – swimming’s Dan Jervis, athletics legend Dame Kelly Holmes, Scottish football referees Lloyd Wilson and Craig Napier, Irish hockey legend Peter Caruth and rugby union’s Nick McCarthy were among those to share their truth publicly for the first time. Each had its own power, and another that certainly grabbed wider attention was that of 95-year-old former All-American Girls Professional Baseball League player Maybelle Blair who spoke on a Tribeca Film Festival panel in New York about the TV drama ‘A League of Their Own’.

During the chat, Blair said about being a lesbian: “I thought I was the only one in the world… I hid for 75, 85 years and this is actually, basically, the first time I’ve ever come out.” As the clip went viral, thousands of people took delight in the way she so confidently batted those familiar LGBTQ+ feelings of loneliness and unease out of the park. Whatever path you’ve taken to the plate, however many times you’ve swung and missed, no matter how many misleading curveballs you’ve pitched – and regardless of age, race, or anything else – a moment will arrive when you can make the perfect connection for your own personal home run. We hope you take that chance.

Also in June… We help to launch the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective, a way to link up those whose visibility is lighting the way for others; Jurgen Klopp records powerful video message of allyship to the British LGBT Awards, where Tom Daley, Pride in Football’s Rishi Madlani, and Stonewall are among the winners; immense credit to footballer Jahmal Howlett-Mundle, who suffered on-field homophobic abuse and stuck with the case through the courts, resulting in the perpetrator being found guilty of a hate crime

Helping to launch the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective was one of our network’s highlights of 2022

July: Lionesses lift nation, while Pride House welcomes all

Watching England at Pride House Birmingham

Six matches that defined a summer, that elevated women’s football in England to new heights, that ensured the names of the Lionesses would be known throughout households the length and breadth of the country… and Leah Williamson wore a rainbow armband in every game. These were halcyon days to savour, and the joy of being LGBTQ+ felt like one of many strands that was neatly woven into the tournament, while valid questions were being raised on representation more widely. I was lucky to bookend my Euros by attending the opening game and the final, watching the other games at Pride House Birmingham which proved to be a hugely popular meeting point in the city for fans.

The day after the second semi-final, the Commonwealth Games began with an outstanding opening ceremony that featured Tom Daley welcoming six LGBTQ+ activists bearing inclusive Progress Pride flags to the Alexander Stadium. It’s estimated that over a billion people worldwide witnessed a moment that helped to place our global community at the heart of the Games, and with over 47 out LGBTQ+ athletes competing in Birmingham (and a further 76 LGBTQ+ athletes known to have participated at previous Games), the case for inclusion was strongly made. After Birmingham 2022, three more countries (Singapore, Barbados, and St Kitts and Nevis) struck down their anti-gay colonial laws but LGBTQ+ people are still criminalised in 32 out of 56 Commonwealth countries, and a further 36 nations globally.

Also in July… Josh Cavallo marches with Stonewall at Pride in London; the RFU issues a blanket ban on trans women from playing women’s rugby, including at grassroots level; some Manly Sea Eagles players refuse to wear a Pride jersey, while a forward at another NRL club – the Sharks’ Toby Rudolf – speaks about the fluidity of sexuality; top 10 tennis star Daria Kasatkina comes out as gay, and so does FIFA referee Igor Benevenuto; Jack Murley’s BBC LGBT+ Sport Podcast hits its 250th episode; BCOMS holds its D Word 4 Conference on diversity in sports media

The incredible moment the Commonwealth Games made history in support of LGBT+ rights

August: Happily Ellia after

The heartwarming story of an Olympic gold medallist coming out publicly as trans, and being able to fully own the moment privately and publicly, was one of the most important LGBTQ+ sports stories of the year. However, you could argue that former Australia international Ellia Green wasn’t celebrated as much as he should have been. There didn’t appear to be any acknowledgement of his courage from the Australian Olympic Committee, Rugby Australia or other governing bodies. A year on from being left out of the Aussie squad for their title defence (they ended up losing to Fiji in the Tokyo 2020 quarter-finals), Green used the IGR Bingham Cup in Canada as a platform to share his story, putting the decision to be open down to his baby daughter Waitui.

Later in the year, he told Urban List: “I believe that everyone deserves a fair chance and not to be discriminated against or treated differently because of how they identify. Every single human being has a unique makeup of genes, genetics, shapes and sizes, and to realise this and accept this in that person is something that every individual deserves.”

Also in August… The BBC documentary ‘Illegal To Be Me’ proves a fitting accompaniment to Tom Daley’s Commonwealth Games activism, with Pride House ambassador Michael Gunning among the contributors; a protest during an England Women training session at Twickenham brings greater focus to the impact of the RFU’s ban on trans women playing women’s rugby; Alix Fitzgerald speaks to Fi Tomas of Telegraph Women’s Sport about the “grief” caused by the RFU decision; Sports Media LGBT+ marks the fifth anniversary of the network’s first meeting around a pub table

Ellia Green came out as a trans man in this opening address to the Bingham Cup International Summit

September: Murray mint addition to list of out gay footballers

On a Friday night in mid-September, Gala Fairydean Rovers – mid-table in the fifth tier of Scottish football – tweeted out an article on the club’s website with quotes from Zander Murray in which he described the liberation of coming out. “I want to help other players who are struggling with this as it isn’t easy for men, especially footballers to deal with,” he said.

The 30-year-old would go on to be interviewed on ITV’s Lorraine and Good Morning Britain, on Sky Sports, and on BBC Scotland – but one of the first in-depth interviews he gave was to Pride of the Terraces’ Andrew Henderson. The striker mentioned how he was beginning to help other closeted players who were already reaching out and shared his advice to them: “You have to start the process of accepting yourself… it’s a step-by-step process.” Without any doubt, Murray’s openness, candour and approachability will help to make that challenging journey a good bit easier, especially for those who contact him.

Also in September… England and Wales are among the European FAs who commit to wearing the OneLove anti-discrimination armband in Qatar; the Perth Parrots floorball club show off an eye-catching new kit; Northern Ireland football legend Marissa Callaghan gets married to long-term partner Paula Reed, with the wedding pictures taken at Cliftonville’s Solitude home ground; Alex Scott’s autobiography ‘How (Not) To Be Strong’ is released, including a chapter on her previous eight-year relationship with England team-mate Kelly Smith

The positive reaction from Zander Murray’s team-mates transformed his life: “I feel like a new man. I feel like Zander Murray 2.0”

October: Survey provides a sense of purpose 

As I sifted through the results of our second network survey, I asked myself a question – does sports media still need us? I’ve found the UK industry to be much more inclusive than when we started up back in 2017, and it’s definitely much better than a decade ago, when I wasn’t even out professionally or personally. I spoke about this encouraging shift at the first meeting of the Sports Media Identity Network, an academic project which launched with an LGBTQ+-focused event. This comment from the survey stood out to me: “It’s obvious when there are LGBT+ journalists working in a certain outlet which proves why diversity is imperative in newsrooms.”

And the results backed this up – there’s now more visible representation in sports media, fewer reports of homophobia, and greater confidence in the industry’s commitment to inclusion. But our mission is far from over – trans and non-binary people understandably feel intimidated as the wider media stokes division, and there’s concern that being out and proud at work might hinder career progress. Another comment: “Culture wars are going to impact contributions going forward. We can already see it.”

Also in October… Our network brings people together in person for an #AuthenticMe social in London and a panel event in Glasgow with our friends at Pride of the Terraces and LEAP Sports Scotland; idiotic Iker Casillas and careless Carles Puyol set Twitter and our WhatsApp group ablaze with their pathetic posts; Byron Perkins, a 19-year-old college footballer from Virginia, breaks down barriers for young Black male athletes by coming out publicly as gay; Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign returns for its annual activation at an earlier-than-usual time of year; Human Rights Watch releases a report detailing the abuse of LGBTQ+ Qataris, a day before activist Peter Tatchell stages a controversial one-man protest in Doha

Byron Perkins joins the Tamron Hall Show – and there’s a special surprise for him that will bring you to tears

November: Rainbow removals service busy in Qatar

Alex Scott wore the armband

After 12 years of anticipation around how any suggestion of LGBTQ+ Pride might go down at a World Cup in Qatar, it took just one day for the answer to arrive – it wouldn’t be welcomed, either by FIFA or by the Supreme Committee. The game’s governing body issued a strong threat of unspecified sanctions which was enough to annihilate the European nations’ OneLove armband proposal, while fans arriving with any rainbow garb at stadiums were discouraged by confiscations, harassment, brief detentions and in one reported instance, even a strip search.

Meanwhile, FIFA President Gianni Infantino told the media that he felt gay, head of media Bryan Swanson mentioned that he actually is gay, but no World Cup player, coach, referee or member of support staff was known to be out as LGBTQ+. It all added up to a social media sandstorm of strong opinions and heightened homophobia, while in Qatar itself, the billion-dollar mirage of the tournament itself seemed to largely mask a myriad number of human rights concerns. We’ll still be trying to make sense of it all in 2023.

Also in November… Dr Nas Mohamed shared stories of LGBTQ+ Qataris while campaigns including No Pride Without All, Proud Stadium and Proud Maroons built momentum; Joe Lycett appears to shred £10,000 in banknotes but instead donates the money to Sport Allies and Stonewall; 6ft 9in Isaac Humphries stands tall and true as he came out publicly as gay in Australian basketball; Rio Ferdinand’s Tipping Point documentary on Prime Video explores sexuality in football, with Sports Media LGBT+ a contributor

Isaac Humphries joined The Project to discuss how life has been since coming out and how he hopes to help others going forward

December: Beth Mead confirmed as Best of British

Viv and Beth (Instagram)

Is being named BBC Sports Personality of the Year still a big deal? Yes, the show has been losing TV viewers amid so much choice on the small screen and the Wednesday night broadcast in Christmas party season (it’s usually staged on a Sunday) probably reduced numbers even further. Regardless, it was wonderful to see Beth Mead take the night’s headline prize – the first time it had been lifted by a female footballer – watched by her girlfriend Vivianne Miedema.

The previous LGBTQ+ winner of the top gong was Dame Kelly Holmes, although of course the middle-distance runner wasn’t out in 2004. You have to go back to John Curry in 1976, when he won Olympic figure skating gold, to find the last time the British public voted for an openly gay athlete as its Sports Personality of the Year. So much has changed in terms of LGBTQ+ rights and visibility in the intervening 56 years but some barriers remain in sport – when they are broken, it’s often with less media fanfare but they still resonate strongly with the community.

Also in December… Adam Crafton’s reporting for The Athletic at the World Cup in Qatar is absolutely essential reading, and dives deeper into the various LGBTQ+ nuances than anyone else; we lose a great ally and the football journalism industry loses a titan in Grant Wahl, who is taken from us far too soon; David Beckham’s camp releases a weak statement in response to criticism of his multi-million pound ambassadorial role for Qatar – there is no mention in it for LGBTQ+ people; Sports Media LGBT+ looks to the future by forming closer ties with our diversity compatriots BCOMS, Women in Football, and The Ability Group in Sport

We finally heard David Beckham’s response in the Christmas edition of Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back

What were your memorable moments from 2022? Any New Year’s resolutions relating to being LGBTQ+ in sport? Let us know in the comments or on social media – you can also check out our 2023 calendar, which shows a wide range of forthcoming events. Thanks for reading this feature and for your support for Sports Media LGBT+. If you’re interested in connecting further, for any reason, get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

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Jon Holmes

Digital Sports Editor