It’s #NationalComingOutDay – here’s why representation in sport and the media matters

GMSW

I’ve thought long and hard about how I wanted to write this piece, gone through multiple drafts and rewritten even this opening sentence more times than I’d like to admit.

And then I decided on this. An open letter, if you will. An honest depiction of why LGBTQ+ representation in both sport and the media is so, so important – and I wanted you to hear it from me, a young lesbian who is navigating her way into the realms of media and journalism. 

As you can guess by the headline, it’s National Coming Out Day – a day to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community whether you’re out or not; this day is still yours.

I won’t bother to bore you with the intricate details of my coming out. Still, when you’re 15 and outed to your family and spend the rest of your late teens grappling with identity and sexuality, you’re bound to seek representation elsewhere to cling to the fact this is normal, and it is beyond OK.

I’ve always been a lifelong football fan, but women’s football didn’t cement itself in my life until the summer of 2012 – let’s say I owe a lot to that last-minute Alex Morgan winner against Canada.

Naturally, I became attached to the national team and began to follow club football, and then in 2014, Casey Stoney publicly came out, and it was like glass shatters kind of moment for me. There’s something unexplainably reassuring about hearing someone you look up to say the words ‘being gay isn’t a choice’ and subtle kind of validation in them daunting the entire process of coming out.

I remember reading that she and her partner, Megan Harris, were expecting twins, and there was a specific sentence that struck something in me.

“To come home every night to two little babies and a family of my own, life doesn’t get any better.”

I remember thinking to myself; I want that someday. And it was the first time growing up tackling this feeling where I didn’t feel completely alien, and there are not enough words to explain how important it was for me at the time to see the openness of Casey Stoney so publicly and positively. 

England v Serbia: UEFA Women's European Championship Qualifiers

It was that same kind of representation I looked for when first making my way into the world of journalism, I find myself drawn to the likes of Clare Balding, and former hockey international turned broadcast journalist, Beth Fisher.

And that’s why I want the media to do more – make more of a conscious effort to show up for and represent LGBTQ+ athletes or sportspeople year-round, don’t just use designated days in the year to show your support. There’s a whole community full of stories to tell that are more than only your tokens; stories that the world should see and hear because you never know who is listening.

Which brings me onto my final point - this year’s World Cup holds a special place in my heart – it was the first major tournament I have covered as a journalist. It was also one in which millions of LGBTQ+ women, including myself, felt represented around the world as players from all different nations were photographed kissing their girlfriends after games and that’s just a fraction of what makes women’s football so special. 

When I first began studying my journalism degree, I made a point in my first year that I wanted to be the kind of journalist who covers things that matter. But even in writing this today I’ve come to realise that my own story matters as much as the stories I write.

And so, wherever this journey takes me, no matter the highs or the lows, I won't always unapologetically to be myself — an open, honest and proud lesbian woman.

Because if ever again there’s a 15-year-old out there pleading with herself not to be gay and to make her feelings go away, I can be one of the thousands of out LGBT+ public figures that she may seek reassurances and representation in.

So, thank you, Casey Stoney, for your courage and willingness to share a big part of you with the world that changed many lives, mine included.

And to my editor, Benny Bonsu, for trusting me to write this piece and for coming to me and asking how we can do more. The world changes for the better with people like you.

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