A platform which shares the extraordinary stories of LGBT sportspeople has arguably been missing over the years. With a ‘gotcha’ media culture, centred on publishing the opinions of those within the community to either merely add comment to an LGBT news story, or to expose a coming-out story, it could be seen that their triumphs within the sporting world are ignorantly overshadowed.
Jack Murley, expresses this sentiment nicely, “if you’re an Olympic gold medallist, who you fall in love with is probably the least interesting thing about you.”
Murley, the presenter of the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast which has moved to Cornwall this Spring, believes that incredible stories from LGBT sportspeople have always been out there, but that people were seemingly too lazy to capture them. Although when starting the podcast, he was without a vision of where it may go, on reflection his goal was to share the voices of LGBT sportspeople that were missing from his childhood, “…one thing I was really conscious of was that when I was growing up, I would have liked to have heard these stories.”
While the general response by bosses and the radio audience in Jersey was positive, there were people who rang in to the station unsupportive of people openly talking about LGBT issues. While he was comfortable with broadcasting anecdotes, the realisation of sharing his personal story was something that he had to deal with in the beginning:
“You get quite worried, because you put yourself out there in this podcast as well, if I am talking to a gay referee, or I am talking to a lesbian hockey player, I can identify with a lot of what they’re saying and when you have a conversation you just end up chatting quite naturally and then you realise, oh I’ve just put out on air to thousands of people about my personal life.”
However, he also recounts moments, like within an unrelated interview with a golf player who expressed the importance of the podcast speaking up about these stories, as he’d felt he had never been represented. The knowledge that people are listening and it is having an impact on the community, is something he wishes to continue with a Cornish audience, giving a platform to those who may be still don’t have one.
While the stories are truly global, he describes how they represent the broad, unique experiences in sport for those within the community, that regardless if you love sport, or do not identify as LGBT, you can find it engaging:
“I hope that we exist and there is a need for podcasts like ours because they tell interesting stories, and they show people who might have been looking for that type of content, you are not alone.”
Born and bred in St Austell with his mother as a P.E teacher and his father a rugby coach, he has always loved sport. While he describes never experiencing bullying of his sexuality, he admits language he heard and prejudice he experienced impacted his decision to which sports team he would play with. He especially struggled with this, at the age of 17:
“…I remember taking myself away from playing hockey, and it sounds really daft now, but thinking I’m not ready to tell these guys, and I don’t want them to think that they’re sharing a shower with a gay guy that was hiding it from them.”
While he says he would have been comforted by the knowledge that if he mentioned his sexuality, it wouldn’t have been notable within his local sports teams, Murley and others were also facing an undercurrent of ignorance surfacing through the normalisation of homophobic slurs. And it’s still an issue today.
Tomhas Rayment knows this better than most. As the loosehead prop for the Westcountry Wasps, which is thought to be the only LGBT-inclusive rugby team within Devon and Cornwall, growing up with a passion for rugby, and being gay, was at times conflicting.
He found derogatory terms like ‘fag’ and ‘puff’ were used in rugby teams as a negative connotation, not to necessarily defame a person’s sexuality, but to degrade someone’s abilities as a sportsperson. While this terminology was a small part of this culture, he became an ‘outsider’ unable to connect with his teammates:
“I never felt comfortable, because I couldn’t be true to myself, I felt like I had to hide something. But then at times, I felt ashamed that I was hiding something and then I felt conflicted and then when I stood up for it, it made things awkward. That’s when I felt like I couldn’t do both.”
Years later, he turned up to one of the first Westcountry Wasps training sessions, nervous to step back into the world of rugby. The truly inclusive club that invites all sexualities, ages, abilities and shapes and sizes, has now for Rayment become a place to fall in love with rugby again, “it’s a really good thing to feel like you’re part of a family.”
While he strives for there to not be a need for a gay club and trusts that attitudes are beginning to change, he believes it is not ‘normalised’ within society yet. Until discrimination and derogative terms are in the distant past, clubs such as the Westcountry Wasps provide a place to freely play rugby, while combatting mental health issues and isolation felt by many in the LGBT community.
Something he wished was available to him as a young adult: “If the Westcountry Wasps were around when I was younger… I would’ve known that as soon as I’d turned 18, there was going to be somewhere that I would feel at home at.”
Both Murley and Rayment looking back note there were no openly gay sportspeople they could aspire to be.
Murley admits: “I used to think when I was growing up, and I say this as a gay man, why do people bang on about it”, it was clear to him that a broader conversation of LGBT issues within sport in Cornwall and further afar was needed, “it was strange growing up loving sport, but not seeing any role models.”