Should LGBT Athletes Be Outspoken?

Olympic Diver Tom Daly

Olympic Diver Tom Daly

Athletes vary a lot in their outspokenness on the LGBT issue. Some of them are basically LGBT rights activists in their own right. Others want people to be so quiet about the LGBT issue that you’d swear that they wanted to shove it into its own closet. Not every single LGBT person has to be an activist, it’s true, and I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on people to feel like they have to be a representative for their sexuality and people with their sexuality all the time. However, professional athletes have a lot of power, and the athletes who can use that power are really advised to do so as much as they can.

Gareth Thomas managed to settle a lot of bets among rugby fans when he confirmed that his is, in fact, LGBT. He’s very much of the school of thought that it shouldn’t matter, and that he wants people to stop talking about it and focus on his performance as an athlete. I understand where he’s coming from, and I want to bring about a world where it doesn’t matter, and being gay or straight is like being brown-haired or black-haired. However, we don’t live in that kind of world yet, and we can’t just pretend we’ve already won. It’s like sports. Even if you know which team is going to win, we have to actually have the match and play it out. We know LGBT rights are going to be second nature to the people of the future, but we have to create that future.

The movement can have people like Gareth Thomas, but everyone can’t be like that. Gareth Thomas is a somewhat older athlete in a profession that tends to skew young, so it makes sense from a generational perspective that he would be more likely to hold this particular viewpoint. He’s more accustomed to a culture where people concealed their sexuality from the public if it was a controversial version, and there’s clearly part of him that is primed for that.

Younger professional athletes who grew up in a less homophobic, transphobic, and biphobic time period may be better activists anyway. They’re going to feel more comfortable with coming out more openly, and they will tend to have a younger and more tolerant fan base in their own right. Gareth Thomas has fans from a more homophobic era who are probably lamenting the ‘loss’ of one of their athletic heroes, and Gareth Thomas shouldn’t regret losing them. Younger professional athletes help embody the future of athletics. When they come out and they’re outspoken about it, they’re sending the message that this is the way things are now, and you have to get used to it. That’s really always been our message.