By James Taylor
Tom Daley’s brave decision yesterday to speak openly about being in a relationship with a man is both moving and inspiring. He is already a role model to thousands of young people, and his honesty and bravery yesterday marks him out as a role model to hundreds of thousands more. In his own words, it shouldn’t be a big deal, but it cannot be an easy decision to be open when he is in the full glare of the media spotlight.
For lesbian, gay and bisexual young people, the decision to come out isn't an easy one. Recent Stonewall research into the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people found that more than half experience homophobic bullying at school and 99% regularly hear homophobic language, including phrases such as 'that's so gay'. Homophobic bullying and homophobic language have a huge impact on young people’s attainment as well as their mental and physical wellbeing.
One environment that can be particularly unwelcoming is sport. Almost a quarter of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience homophobic bullying during sport and three in ten experience it in the changing room. The effects of this can last well into adulthood, with six in ten gay and bisexual men and four in ten lesbians and bisexual women saying they would expect to experience homophobia if they took part in a team sport and were open about their sexual orientation.
This isn't a problem that's confined to amateur sport. A 2009 YouGov poll of football fans, commissioned by Stonewall, found that seven in ten had heard anti-gay language and abuse on the terraces. Sadly, in the intervening four years little has changed. We can count the number of openly gay professional sportspeople in Britain on one hand with none in the top football leagues. This is why it is a big deal when we see lesbian, gay and bisexual athletes competing at the highest level.
It's also why in September we teamed up with Paddy Power to provide a way for professional football players to show their support for gay players. Players from 52 different clubs – 40% of the total number of clubs in the UK – wore rainbow laces. Encouragingly, broadcast pundits and sporting icons also showed their support for the campaign including Gary Lineker, Boris Becker, Gareth Thomas, Clare Balding and Matt Le Tissier. This was coupled with a huge following on social media, with over 320,000,000 Twitter impressions mentioning the rainbow laces campaign.
We know that a pair of rainbow laces isn't going to eradicate homophobia in football overnight. Stonewall's work in football and all other sports will continue until all lesbian, gay and bisexual players – amateur or professional – are able to be themselves and fans can do the same.
At Stonewall we'll be keenly following Tom Daley's journey to Rio 2016. We hope that his bravery and courage also makes it that little bit easier for young people around the world who are coming to terms with their own sexual orientation.
James Taylor works in Stonewall's public affairs team
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