Athletes ranging from Olympic gold medallists to grassroots footballers joined journalists, administrators and many others in roles across the world of sport for network and advocacy group Sports Media LGBT+‘s #AuthenticMe event on October 8.
Held at Twitter UK’s London headquarters in the same week as National Coming Out Day, the celebratory get-together was the second such event organised by Sports Media LGBT+, which was formed two years ago to help the industry become more inclusive and to amplify the under-represented voices of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in sport. Both the event and the network are supported by the Sports Journalists’ Association, whose pop-up banners helped to provide some additional scenery on the night!
The headline panel discussion at #AuthenticMe 2019 was titled ‘Out, And The Olympics’, and looked at the experiences of three athletes who represent the past, present and hopefully future of the Summer Games with regards to LGBT+ visibility. Matthew Mitcham, who became the first out man to win an Olympic gold medal when he claimed the 10m platform diving title at Beijing 2008, was joined by Susannah Townsend – part of the Great Britain hockey team that triumphed at Rio 2016 – and British-born swimmer Michael Gunning, who hopes to compete for Jamaica at Tokyo 2020.
Chaired by ITV Wales Sport‘s Beth Fisher, the trio spoke about their personal experiences of coming out in their respective sports, and how being authentic had had a positive impact on both their mental health and their performances. Mitcham’s testimony directly referenced the sports media – he came out publicly in a Sydney Morning Herald interview before heading to China 11 years ago – and the respect and patience that was shown to him by journalist Jessica Halloran while he was deciding whether or not to be open with his fellow Australians about who he was.
"I don't think I ever reached my full potential (before coming out)," says @matthew_mitcham. "I don't think you can give yourself fully to anything if your heart isn't in it."
— Sports Media LGBT+ (@SportsMediaLGBT) October 8, 2019
The second panel of the evening was hosted by BBC broadcaster Jack Murley, whose LGBT Sport Podcast series has now racked up over 50 episodes since launching last year. Murley was joined by four previous pod episode guests – England World Cup rugby player Fee Pocock, Stonewall FC founder Aslie Pitter MBE, rally driver Rowena Purdy, and former European Paralympic skiing champion John Dickinson-Lilley – to look at what ‘Sharing Stories’ in the media space as LGBT+ athletes can achieve.
The evening was rounded off with a football-themed chat called ‘Our Beautiful Game’, where four guests with varied roles – administrator, journalist, player, and fan – talked about their individual relationships with the sport. Federation of Gay Games co-president Joanie Evans; writer and broadcaster Nicky Bandini; Sunday league footballer JP Casey, who is non-binary; and Bhavisha Ravji, the co-chair of Proud Valiants, Charlton’s LGBT+ fans group, fielded questions from SJA committee member Jon Holmes, and the audience. The panel was also staged in support of the Fare network’s #FootballPeople Action Weeks, and Women In Football. Nicky later tweeted…
Such a privilege to be a part of this… Incredibly empowering to share in people’s experiences of coming out in the world of sport – from grassroots organisations right up to Olympic champions. Hope these stories continue to reach those people who most need to hear them.
Among the takeaways from the evening was the important role the media plays in raising awareness around LGBT+ inclusion in different sports, and the need for sensitivity and empathy when presenting content that might relate to a sportsperson’s sexuality or gender identity.
Audience members at Twitter HQ included sports journalism students from St Mary’s University, Twickenham; journalists from titles such as The Athletic, Give Me Sport, and the Daily Mirror; and media and communications officers from The Football Association, Team GB, England Hockey, as well as other governing bodies. In addition, Sunday Independent writer Craig Bratt put together an in-depth feature on the event (‘Sports writers can take pride as champions of inclusivity’, October 13), with further detailed coverage available on the Sports Media LGBT+ website.
The event also helped to tee up the forthcoming 21st Birthday Awards of Out For Sport, the umbrella group for over 50 LGBT+-inclusive sports clubs in London and the South-East, which will be held at City Hall on Friday, November 1; and the annual Rainbow Laces campaign activation, organised by the equality charity Stonewall, which seeks to help ‘make sport everyone’s game’ by encouraging welcoming signs of LGBT+ inclusion across the UK sports landscape. The SJA’s British Sports Awards 2019, taking place at the Tower of London on Thursday, November 28, will be among the events to show support for Rainbow Laces this year.
Future outcomes associated with the #AuthenticMe event will include a set of media guidelines, the product of a new Sports Media LGBT+ workshop called ‘Communicating LGBT+ Inclusion’ which was delivered by the network to delegates attending the Pride Sports Summit in Manchester on October 10.
If you’d like to learn more about Sports Media LGBT+, its #AuthenticMe initiative, or the forthcoming Rainbow Laces campaign activation, you can get in touch with the network group via the Contact form on their website or by emailing Jon Holmes at firstname.lastname@example.org.