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Civil Service

Celebrating LGBTi through sport

Sue Owen, Permanent Secretary for DCMS and the Civil Service LGB&TI Champion
Sue Owen, Permanent Secretary for DCMS and the Civil Service LGB&TI Champion

This year’s Rio 2016 Olympic Games have been extremely successful for Team GB, finishing an overall second in the medals table. I send congratulations to all athletes who participated in the Games and good luck to athletes competing in the Paralympic Games.

As LGBTi champion for the Civil Service, I was particularly moved and proud to hear that this Olympics made history in a number of areas affecting the LGBTi community. Rio 2016 had a record number of 44 'out' athletes competing, almost double the number at London 2012, and a record number of at least 9 'out' Paralympians.

Rio 2016 also marked the first time that a same-sex married couple competed in the Olympics together, as well as the first time a same-sex married couple won gold medals together. Helen Richardson-Walsh and Kate Richardson-Walsh travelled to Rio as a married couple having played hockey competitively together for a number of years, starting a relationship before the Beijing 2008 Games.

Another particularly moving moment for the LGBTi community, was when Marjorie Enya, a Brazilian TV presenter at the Games, asked Isadora Cerullo to marry her on the pitch after the rugby sevens finals. This was a moment that left many viewers, as well as Clare Balding, the British BBC presenter covering the Games, who is openly gay, close to tears.

These Olympic Games also welcomed the new International Olympic Committee rules with regards to transgender and intersex athletes. It is no longer compulsory to undergo hormone testing, as little scientific evidence is available to prove high levels of testosterone provide an unfair advantage in sport. As well as those mentioned above, other high-profile Olympians entered the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as openly LGBT.

Nicola Adams became the first female LGBT Boxing Olympic Champion in London 2012 and went on to retain her title in Rio 2016. She is openly bisexual and was named the Independent’s “Most influential LGBT person” in 2012.

Tom Daley made history as the youngest competitor of any nationality to compete in the Olympics in 2008.  Shortly after his victory in the London 2012 Games,  he came out as a gay man via a YouTube video. He became engaged in 2015 and was publically supported by his fiancée at the games.

Lee Pearson is a 10-time Paralympic gold medallist and was voted as Paralympics GB’s flagbearer for Rio 2016. He has been openly gay throughout his time competing.

Sadly, despite these fantastic achievements, research with the LGBTi community in the UK shows that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in sport is still prevalent, and barriers to participation remain. Our sport and physical activity strategy, “Sporting Future, A New Strategy for an Active Nation”, developed by our Sports Team in the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, sets out a number of actions that will be taken to ensure that all underrepresented groups - including the LGBTi community - can take part in sport and wider physical activity.

The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee are currently conducting an inquiry into homophobia in sport and will report their findings later this year. DCMS, on behalf of government, provided written evidence, which committed to fully implementing the actions contained in the Sporting Future strategy and to work with sport to find further ways to tackle this important subject.

Tracey Crouch, the minister responsible, is determined to see the sport sector come together to create a truly inclusive environment for everyone and calls for an end to all discrimination in sport.

'A great place to work' logoI believe that these recent events should be a time to celebrate the achievements of these athletes and to celebrate within the LGBTi community. As a Civil Service, we should look to these Olympians as role models and celebrate their successes. I hope that by doing so, rather than remembering them specifically for their sexual orientation, we will be able to work together to reduce homophobia in sport.

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  1. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you for an interesting blog. From my perspective, I would agree that we should celebrate the achievements of our Olympic Team, I would also agree that we should commend those who have had the courage to be authentic about who they really are and to demonstrate the importance of equality in both life and in sport.

    But as you mention, we still live in an environment where for many it is still a challenge for them to be authentic and that is something that we can seek to improve. Especially, during National Inclusion Week in September 2016.

  2. Comment by C Rivers Mohan posted on

    I agree with the commenters above who point out that while being LGBT&I has nothing to do with your sporting prowess, the reason it's relevant is because far too often homophobia and transphobia in the sport is pushed under the carpet and allowed to continue. When athletes feel empowered to be out about their sexual or gender identities, they provide other LGBT&I folk like myself with role models who demonstrate that no matter what others say you can succeed.

    As for the comments around taking testosterone - this is based on a misunderstanding of the rules. Transgender women generally aren't allowed to compete until a couple of years have elapsed since full reassignment surgery. At this point, their testosterone levels are typically much lower than cisgender (i.e. not transgender) women, as there is nothing in their body that continues to produce it.

    As for intersex athletes, given that the international Olympic committee feels that hormone testing is pointless (given that increased testosterone doesn't automatically give an advantage to the competitors), why should we - who presumably haven't done the research ourselves - dispute this? I think that seeing intersex athletes competing proudly is a huge step forward and one we should celebrate.

    • Replies to C Rivers Mohan>

      Comment by Al posted on

      But how do you get around the conundrum of intersex athletes being too strong to compete fairly against women, yet not strong enough to compete fairly against men (or vice versa)? Caster Semenya is the great case in point here.

  3. Comment by Dan posted on

    Great article on the diversity of LGBTi diversity within Olympic sport!

    It is these proud confident openly gay athletes that inspire, encourage and send a very powerful uplifting message to current and future generations.

    When we finally see two premier league footballing stars proposing marriage on the pitch after a hard fought match with cheers of support from the stands (rather than more routine homophobic or racist chants) we will know a further level of inclusion has been attained.

    Keep up the good work LGBTi Championing across government and beyond!

  4. Comment by Jim posted on

    Personally I think by high-lighting this issue like this, you make it worse. What has Sexual orientation got to do with it? Surely it is what they have achieved should be celebrated.
    On the other hand if you want to highlight a "minority" group like LBGT, why stop there? There are lots of other minority groups such as for race, religion or culture.

    • Replies to Jim>

      Comment by Steve posted on

      Jim - "What has Sexual orientation got to do with it? Surely it is what they have achieved should be celebrated."
      That's the point! Someone's sexual orientation should have no bearing upon their acceptance in any other facet of their lives; yet for decades, LGBTi people have suffered discrimination and mockery in the sporting world... Football possibly moreso than any other, what with the fanbase's predeliction towards offensive chants and songs whilst watching a match.
      So by highlighting successes in sport by LGBTi competitors, we show the ignorance and stupidity of those who believe that having any sexual identity other than "straight" is somehow wrong, or gives a disadvantage in any way other than having to suffer the jibes of the chronically moronic.

  5. Comment by Darren posted on

    I really wish people wouldn't use the word "openly" when describing someone who is gay. I don't refer to "openly straight". Maybe I should.

    • Replies to Darren>

      Comment by Steve posted on

      The performances of athletes from all nations at both Olympics and Paralympics were fantastic, as was the thrill of competition. But I think Sue is rather glossing over the controversial issue of transgender/intersex athletes with high testosterone levels being allowed to compete in what is supposed to be a "closed" competition. To be blunt a lot of female competitors are not happy with the ruling and I can understand their concerns: if they took testosterone injections to put themselves on a level playing field they would be banned for doping!

    • Replies to Darren>

      Comment by Miri posted on

      But have you ever had to hide the fact you're straight from your peers? Most, if not all, of the athletes mentioned above have probably felt that they've needed to hide their sexual orientations/identities to avoid discrimination, at some point in their lives. In today's current climate, where homo/bi/transphobia are still very real problems (especially in the sporting world), it's brave that they've stepped forward to be openly gay - it shouldn't have to be brave, but the fact of the matter is they were potentially jeopardising their careers by making that move. They should be recognised and applauded for it.

      • Replies to Miri>

        Comment by Danya posted on

        Re: "openly gay" - I also dislike this phrase as it carries connotations not only of it being normal to hide one's sexuality (admittedly not without truth in many areas of sport), but also of being gay as something it is appropriate to hide. Most uses of "openly" have this in common - people "openly" flout rules, "openly" admit to x, y or z...

        "Out" suffices perfectly well when we wish to be specific in order to applaud their bravery, without these connotations of shame and guilt. But in many instances, it's simply not necessary to specify this at all - eg. the reference to Clare Balding in this post where "who is gay" would have meant exactly the same thing.

        Clearly this isn't the end of the world, and I don't for a moment imagine that Sue Owen meant to evoke these connotations. But it's still not an ideal turn of phrase.