Zander Murray tells FvH Podcast media hype could put gay footballers ‘back in the closet’

Published by Jon Holmes on

The first player to come out publicly as gay while active in senior Scottish men’s football is the guest on a new episode of the Football v Homophobia Podcast; Zander Murray talks about ongoing interest around pro players coming out, and the positive impact he’s making in LGBTQ education…

By Jon Holmes

Zander Murray
Zander Murray is hanging up his boots at the end of the 2023/24 season

Zander Murray is concerned at the way media coverage is fuelling gossip around gay and bi pro footballers.

Murray came out publicly in September 2022 while playing for Gala Fairydean Rovers in Scotland and was one of only six known gay players worldwide in the men’s game in 2024.

Sensational reports in parts of the British media in recent weeks have led to intense speculation on social media that a group of players could come out publicly on May 17, which is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

The date was suggested in Germany by the organiser of the “Sports Free” project, Marcus Urban, who has claimed to be communicating via a third party with closeted footballers in the Bundesliga and other leagues.

Several months ago, Urban floated May 17 as a window of opportunity for people in sport who are LGBTQ and who no longer want to hide that part of who they are.

However, some outlets have interpreted that as footballers having pre-planned collectively to share their personal news on that date.

Posts on social media from accounts that are trying to go viral to monetise engagement have received replies and comments from fans trying to guess who they think is gay or bi, with potentially damaging consequences.

Speaking on a new episode of the Football v Homophobia Podcast, Murray said: “This is obviously a bit of a craze in the media at the moment.”

He says it would have been difficult for him two years ago to contemplate going into a WhatsApp group with other gay footballers before then coming out together.

“It would have been nice to engage with others, absolutely. But coming out all together in a group, like cannon fodder?

“I don’t know how I’d feel about that and especially having a date set and then watching all the stuff that’s happening on social media, with horrible comments. No.

“What I will say was, when I did see visibility within my space, that helped me 110%. So this approach in Germany is unique. It’s very different.

“I hope it happens because if it did, it’s only going to strengthen our community.

“But I hope they don’t get thrown by what they’ve seen in the press from it. The press has really picked it up. I just hope that if it’s true, and it’s going to happen as a group, they don’t see the press and end up going further back in the closet.”

Murray says his own coming out experience was a much more personal affair.

“It was a collection of moments for me. I did a lot of work on myself – journaling, meditation, mindfulness, counselling, all these things played a part.

“But it took me nearly a year and a half from when I told my family in April 2021 to September 2022, to actually tell the football community.

“One moment within that time that was so powerful was from my manager at the time, Neil Hastings. He’s now the assistant manager at Livingston.

“Weirdly, he didn’t know because I wasn’t out or anything, but he just started saying to us in the changing room after a match, “I don’t care what you’re doing gentlemen, go home and relax, chill with your girlfriends, chill with your boyfriends, go and relax.”

“It used to get a lot of sniggers but he just continued to say it, four or five weeks in.

“And then one day, as the players were laughing, my captain Gareth Rodger said, ‘I don’t understand why that’s a laughing matter. My cousin’s gay, no big issue if anyone’s gay in this dressing room. It’s not a problem.’

“I was thinking, oh my god that is just true allyship right that, not forced, nobody asking them to do it, just leaders in my dressing room being allies.

“And that in hindsight was a massive moment for me.”

Zander Murray has found himself in demand as a public speaker since coming out

‘Education is exactly what’s needed’

In the last year or so, Murray has worked with TIE Scotland to deliver around 25 LGBTQ+ educational workshops to Scottish academies and schools, alongside other sessions such as for SPFL captains.

The workshops were recently featured in the TNT Sports documentary ‘Rylan: Football, Homophobia and Me’. Murray draws upon his experience in the game to give a unique player’s perspective that helps young people to recognise language and behaviour that is likely to make their teammates uncomfortable if they are struggling with their sexuality.

In the podcast, he reflects on a recent session when a former Premier League manager, now a director of football at a Scottish Premiership club, was in attendance.

“We did a workshop at Hibs and Brian McDermott just rocked up and sat down.

“He came up to us at the end and said ‘guys, this is exactly what the tone and the content should be. This is exactly what’s needed, not just here in Scotland, all across the UK. This is brilliant.’

“He said he knew the session was about LGBTQ education in football and that he was a bit apprehensive at first. But he felt this is exactly what’s needed.

“There was praise for my BBC Scotland documentary too, such as from Livingston’s chief executive. If we’re being praised from that level, we must be doing something right.

“I just hope that it translates to people being more aware, more understanding and accepting us.

“That’s going to help young kids that are struggling, of course, but another side is winning others over and changing hearts and minds.”

Find out more about supporting Football v Homophobia on the FvH website and for more from Zander, listen to the FvH Podcast! You can also connect with him via the links here.

Further reading…

If you’re expecting gay footballers to come out as a group this week, you’ve been played (Outsports)

Zander Murray to retire, leaving only five out gay men active in pro men’s soccer worldwide (Sky Sports)

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Jon Holmes

Digital Sports Editor