It's often referred to as one of the last gay taboos in Britain - an out gay professional footballer. But why does a large proportion of the gay (and straight) media, as well as a large section of society in general, seem to be obsessed with the prospect of an out pro footballer? Why do some of us think that having an out and proud gay or bisexual footballer matters?
Many of us will already know the story of Justin Fashanu. As Britain's first £1million black footballer he had the sporting world at his feet when he transferred to Nottingham Forest in 1981. Fashanu didn't come out publicly until 1990 but his sexuality was no secret to those who knew him, including his manager at Nottingham Forest Brian Clough. In his biography Clough recounted a particularly frustrated exchanged he had with the player soon after his transfer to Forest:
"'Where do you go if you want a loaf of bread?' I asked him. 'A baker's, I suppose'. 'Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?' 'A butcher's'. 'So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs' club?"'
Taken from 'Clough: The Autobiography' By Brian Clough
It's not obvious from Clough's telling of the exchange whether or not he held particularly strong views about homosexuality but what is apparent is that whatever his views on being gay were, he wasn't making it particularly easy for Fashanu to come out. Of course this was over 20 years ago and indeed Fashanu did not come out for another nine years, after being approached by The Sun newspaper. It's not clear whether the stresses of hiding his sexuality affected his playing abilities, but the fact that Clough barred Fashanu from training with the side once he found out he was gay gives us a fair idea that it might have played a role. Common sense would suggest that someone who can be themselves at work without fear of rejection or abuse would be happier and more productive.
Justin Fashanu had a very chaotic career in football throughout the 1980s, with numerous transfers and a notable knee injury that almost ended his career. In 1998 at the age of 37, Justin Fashanu was found hanging in a lock up in Shoreditch - he had taken his own life following sexual assault allegations in America that he felt he would not be able to successfully defend. In his suicide note he stated that the sex was consensual.
It would be far too lazy and irresponsible to link Fashanu's struggles around coming out in the world of football with his suicide. However, to the gossip-hungry tabloid fan it's easy to pick out the words 'Gay', 'Footballer' and 'Suicide' to create a climate of fear that has remained with us, even up until today.
In 1991 Gay Times featured Justin Fashanu on its cover (right). How strange it seems to see an out pro footballer on the cover of a gay magazine in 1991, knowing now that in the 22 years that have followed we haven't seen another.
Last September Clarke Carlise, the Chairman of the Professional Footballer's Association and a Northampton Town defender, told a sport's magazine that he had spoken to eight gay professional footballers who told him they were afraid to come out. Seven of the eight players cited a fear of fan and media backlash as one of the reasons they had chosen to only come out to those close to them and not in public. It's impossible to say whether or not there were any closeted gay players when Justin Fashanu came out but knowing that there are at least eight now may suggest that rather than following society's progressive attitude towards diversity and inclusion, football has actually taken steps backwards.
"But is this idea of an intolerant, caveman attitude to homosexuality in football merely an invention of our fear?"
Chris is a self-confessed football fanatic. As well as playing for gay-friendly team Nottingham Ball Bois twice a week he also attends matches at both Nottingham and Derby with gay friends. Chris thinks that we do need out gay players but the clubs need to do more to impose FA regulations. "Some people seem to think going to a football game means they can leave any decency they have at the gates and scream whatever they like at the opposing team", he says. "The clubs are getting better at imposing the FA regulations but often abuse is just ignored. Racial abuse has had to be dealt with; players can't hide the colour of their skin. If some players were openly gay the clubs would have to act in the same way when homophobic abuse occurs."
One of the biggest factors that make the whole idea of an out gay footballer in 2013 so interesting is the unknown reaction that person would receive - from fans, team mates and the media. There's no question that society has moved on in its acceptance of gay people since Justin Fashanu was 'encouraged' to come out by The Sun newspaper but how big has that movement in Britain really been? Being gay is still seen as a subject worthy of a tabloid story, gay teens are still committing suicide because they are getting bullied at school and marriage equality is only now being debated. Are we just foolish to think that a sport that still has to encourage clubs to combat racist abuse from fans will welcome a gay player with applause and a pat on the back?
"The fact is that until another player does come out, we will never know what the reaction will be. All we can do in the meantime is to guess."
No matter how positive the reaction from fans will be when a player does take that brave step, it's naive to think that verbal abuse, of any nature, will be completely eradicated from the sport. All players face taunts and insults - for being black, for missing penalties or for simply being unpopular. There has to be a certain amount of 'taking it on the chin' and to think otherwise would be too idealistic. We all remember what we were told at school about name calling - sticks and stones make break my bones but words will never hurt me. But when that name calling crosses the line and becomes damaging then something has to be done. When fans shout to David Beckham that they hope his kids get cancer then something has to be done. When fans throw bananas on the pitch at black players then something has to be done. Footballers are employees of the club they are playing for and in any other job we would look to our employees to provide us with a safe working environment. The FA can't second guess the reaction to gay footballers but they can be proactive in setting up their stall now.
The Football v Homophobia campaign
is 'an international initiative opposing homophobia in football at all levels - from grassroots to professional clubs.' This year the campaign aimed to recruit as many teams (league and non-league) as possible, asking them to pledge their support for tackling homophobia in football. The scheme is heavily supported by the FA on their official website and yet three months after the campaign started only 55 teams have so far signed up. Some of the biggest teams in the country do not yet appear on the '150 Leaderboard' - you can see who has made the pledge and who hasn't by visiting the FA's website.
I find it disappointing that so many top flight clubs have yet to make their position known on homophobia in football. Surely it's a no-brainer; they should all be against it. They shouldn't even need to sign a pledge stating their position, but the fact that there is one and they haven't speaks volumes. Campaigns like Football v Homophobia are so important because they shine the spotlight on clubs and highlight the attitudes that exist with the culture of football at all levels. I think that supporters' associations have the same duty to stand up against homophobia (and racism in sport) and until we see a widespread climate of support it would be pretty naive to think that a player would ever feel comfortable coming out - and who could blame them?
Chris believes that we all have a responsibility to create a more inclusive game and that it's not just up to the FA. "Some people will say that those who shout insults aren't really football fans but will still sit by and allow them to keep chanting vile things without reporting them. It seems bizarre that in almost any other sport it doesn't seem to be an issue. We have openly gay athletes, rugby players and boxers."
The question of who should shoulder the responsibility is an interesting one. The clubs, the FA, the players, the fans and the government all have a part to play but it's impossible for things to change unless everyone is on board.
When we look at the political changes that have come about in regards to gay equality (equal age of consent, section 28 being abolished) it's easy to applaud our forward thinking nation but these changes in law do not always make the transition into everyday life and communities so smoothly or as timely.
"Sometimes laws can change a lot quicker than attitudes."
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He suggested that the inevitable circus that would follow would be too distracting which is why he made the decision to take time away from football after coming out; time to spend with his family and friends. Since his announcement Rogers has hinted heavily that a return to the game may be on the cards. After training with LA Galaxy he said, "It feels normal to be back. I've grown up playing soccer my whole life. I've always been on a soccer field, so I feel at home on a soccer field."
Maybe the reception Rogers has received from fans and peers since coming out hasn't been as negative as he expected it would be. A promising sign maybe.
The big question is whether or not we actually 'need' a footballer to come out. There's no doubt that taking that step is a very personal one and I think it would be wrong to pressure anyone to come out for any other reason than it being the right thing for them. However, this doesn't mean that I think society (and the gay community in particular) would not benefit. Of course they would. We know the old fashioned belief that gay people can't and don't wish to play sport is complete rubbish, but what we don't know is how many gay people play particular sports at a professional level. My point isn't that there should be a representation of gay people in each sport but if there is then great. My point is that if we KNOW there are at least eight gay footballers currently playing top flight football who are not comfortable coming out through fear of what the reactions would be, that is unacceptable. Anyone who has come out knows what this fear is like. Instead of worrying about the media response we may have worried about our friends' response. We haven't had to worry about the fans' response but we agonised over what our colleagues may say.
"The simple fact that people are still scared to come out at work (be that in the world of sport, a building site or an office) shows that as a society we are not doing enough to provide the reassurance that is needed."
A lot of people find that the fears they have around coming out never actually materialise and that things are a lot easier than they assumed they would be. Maybe this will be the case in football too but surely there’s no harm in acting now to reduce this fear by being proactive by adopting an anti-homophobic stance.
It would be great for one of those eight players to bite that bullet and stand up to be counted. Fear can cripple us and is very often much worse than the thing we fear. The difference with fear of this nature is that we don't yet know the outcome and so we don't yet know if the fear is warranted. One thing is for sure, whoever decides to step up and step out will have the respect and appreciation of millions of people from around the world. Many will think that this is no big deal and to them it might not be, which is fine. But it is a big deal to many others and that's why sometimes some of us seem to be obsessed with gay footballers. If a gay player can't come out then how is an out gay youngster ever going to break into the sport?
"I realised I was gay when I was 14 or 15. I was like, 'I want to play football. But there are no gay footballers. What am I going to do?"
Robbie Rogers (2013)
As soon as I read the news that NBA star Jason Collins had come out as gay
, I found myself preparing for the torrent of comments that will no doubt swamp message boards and social networking sites across the globe in the coming hours, days and weeks. Whenever a public figure or someone in a traditionally 'straight' arena comes out we get the same reaction from various sections of society. We get the proud, supportive people congratulating the person on making, what must have been, a huge personal step. We also hear from a section of the gay community who simply don't see the big deal and greet the news with a shrug of the shoulders. We obviously and unfortunately still have to hear from the homophobic minority who turn the story into a trolling opportunity and a way of showcasing their vile opinions and attitudes towards gay people. But we also hear comments from a huge section of society who simply say, 'who cares?'
It's 2013 right? Gay people are everywhere right? Who cares if a basketball player is gay? I tell you who cares; the millions of young people or older closeted gay, lesbian or bisexual people around the world who are still too scared to come out themselves.
I think to understand the gravity of Collins' announcement we have to think about this fact. Until Collins came out today there was NO OPENLY GAY ATHLETE IN A MAJOR US TEAM SPORT. Just think about that for a few seconds. Sport is part of US and global culture and therefore part of all of our lives in some way. And to think that until today the gay community was not represented in any way in major US sport is actually pretty unbelievable. To think that there is now only one gay athlete in a major US team sport is also pretty unbelievable. It's unbelievable because it isn't true. There are many gay athletes, both male and female in popular sport around the world but they do not feel able to let the world know. Why? Fear.
So when someone like Collins decides to take that step up on to the podium and stand in the spotlight, that will now undoubtedly shine on him, it IS a big deal. It's not a big deal because people need to know that gay people can play sport and it's not a big deal because people need to know that gay people can be really tall. It's important because it's a first and firsts are hugely important.
Think back to 2009 when Barack Obama was sworn in as the first black President. It was a big deal. It was a big deal because it was a first and to dismiss that or not acknowledge it would have been ignorant. These firsts matter because they show progress. They give us a clear benchmark to assess where we are as a country, as a continent and as a world.
The important thing around Collins' coming out isn't really his coming out, it's how it will be received by teammates, the NBA and US sports fans in general over the coming months. We all know that gay people can play basketball, we were not waiting for confirmation of that! What we were waiting for was for someone to be that 'first' person to stand up and be counted, alone, as one person. Collins might be feeling pretty lonely at the moment being the only openly gay US athlete in a major US team sport but he won't be lonely for long.
The reason that it annoys me when people dismiss these coming outs as 'unimportant' or 'no big deal' is because they ARE important and they ARE a big deal to many millions of closeted people around the world. When you live your life in the closet you're almost like an undercover agent - constantly assessing the views about gay people from friends, family and colleagues. Listening for passive insults, outright homophobia or verbal acceptance of our sexual minorities. I knew I was gay at 15 but didn't come out until I was 21. I spent six years hiding who I was through fear of being rejected. I wouldn't have come out any sooner if there would have been an out gay basketball player but that's not the point. Closeted gay people will be watching the reaction that Collins gets after his announcement. They will be watching closely. It won't be the 'who cares?' or the 'what's the big deal?' comments that will stick in the minds of these people. It will be the vile homophobic ones and the messages of support.
In the 11 years since I came out I've become comfortable with who I am and can look back on my closeted period with a huge sense of sadness. The fear I felt from the assumption that all my straight friends and family members hated gay people and would therefore hate me, turned out to be unfounded.
Keeping quiet isn't good enough I'm afraid. Don't assume that everyone knows you have no issues with gay people. If you're straight, gay or bisexual and think that Jason Collins was brave when he shared something so personal with the world today then why not tell people? Change your Facebook status, send a Tweet, mention it to a friend. Take a step further and comment on a news article. There'll be plenty of anti-gay sentiments on there so why not offer a balance. Whatever you do, do something. You never know, someone that reads or hears what you say might just need it. Quiet acceptance isn't as powerful as proactive acknowledgement. We are judged on our actions and words and not on our opinions.
If you are straight and would like to write and submit a message of support for our website then please email email@example.com
I can't quite believe that it's been a whole year since I uploaded the first coming out stories, emailed to me by my friends, to this website - there are now over 150 from all around the world! I first had the idea for RUComingOut after meeting J, a 17 year old boy, in my job as a youth worker. I had worked with him since he was 15 and I was the first person he came out to. I felt a huge amount of responsibility to him and wanted to make sure I gave him as much support as I could.
I knew I was gay when I was about 15 I think, but didn't come out for another six years. During those years I felt pretty lost to be honest. I didn't feel I really belonged anywhere. I wasn't straight, I knew that, but I didn't consider myself as gay either because I wasn't out yet. I wanted to try and do all I could to help J to understand that he didn't need to be as scared as he was about telling people he was gay. I wrote down my experiences of coming out and gave them to J to read. I asked my friends if they could write their stories down and they did.
Suddenly, and simply, J felt a little bit more comfortable with his future. He realised that he would have to tell people but that he was under no pressure to do it a particular way. More importantly, he realised that every happy, secure gay man or woman had to go through that difficult and often emotionally frought period to become who they are.
The website was not the first concept for the project. The idea for a book that could be sent to colleges and school libraries came after a conversation with my friend Shelley. I took to Twitter and Facebook and the stories came flooding in. Once I realised that there were many more people willing to share their stories than I had expected, the website seemed like an obvious thing to do and so after a few lessons in web design from my friend Yog, RUComingOut.com was born in March 2012.
There are far too many people and organisations to thank but I have to mention attitude magazine who, as well as supporting the first birthday event which takes place next week, they got behind the project really early on.
The feedback I have received and the comments I see underneath the stories on the site confirm that this project is helping people. I've always said that there is no rule book to coming out but if someone somewhere reads just one sentence in one story that they connect with, then there's a chance we've made a difference to their life.
I have big plans for RUComingOut and with your continued support I know that they will be realised. If you have any ideas, suggestions or want to write a feature for the website please get in touch with me. If you have lots of money and you're not sure what to do with it, then again, please contact me and maybe I can convince you to become a corporate sponsor for the site.
I received an email this week and although I have taken the name of the send off, I would like to share it with you. I've changed the odd detail to protect the senders identity as he is still very much on his coming out journey.
I just wanted to thank you. Since I sent you my story I have received a lot of support and really kind words from everyone. It filled me with new confidence and appreciation of myself (something I never thought I could do).
This website has helped me in ways I never thought possible and I truly believe it is the best resource for gay people on the Internet. Just sitting and reading other people's stories make me feel like I'm not alone in this world and that there is a huge community of people that are truly special in ways that they may not even realise.
We really have made a difference, so thank you!
One of the biggest fears I had when I was contemplating coming out ten years ago was the reaction of my straight male friends. I knew they were great people and I guess deep down I was sure that they would be accepting but that still didn't stop me feeling very anxious about what their reaction would be.
Later on in the year I will be blogging more about the reaction of same sex friends when coming out but in the mean time here's a link to a video I made with my friends Peppe and Will. They're both straight and have a brilliant YouTube channel (BarSideView
) where they talk and eat lots of food, quickly. Anyway, we all thought it would be interesting to talk about the subject of coming out to your mates, so we did!
Watch the video here or click on the picture of the three handsome chaps.
Remember to subscribe to BarSideView's YouTube's channel and follow them on Twitter - @BarSideView
"For while some are incapable of marriage because they were born so, or made so by men, there are others who have themselves renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. Let those accept it who can."
What does this Bible quote mean? To some it would suggest that God is clearly acknowledging homosexuals and even going one step further and encouraging their acceptance. To others it clearly refers to those who are born unable to produce children. Unfortunately Jesus does not have Twitter so we can't ask him exactly what he meant in his statement. I'm being flippant, of course I am, but only for the purpose of highlighting the huge difference in society from the time of Jesus to the time we live in now. I've always been fascinated by Faith and how millions of people around the world live their lives based on the teachings of one man who lived over 2,000 years ago. From my History and Religious Studies lessons at school, I do believe that there was a man called Jesus and he did travel around speaking to the masses trying to encourage them to lead decent lives. Was He the Son of God? I don't know. Does anyone know? I'd argue that they don't. I understand that many many people 'believe' that Jesus was the Son of God but that is different to 'knowing' something surely? Well that's where Faith comes in.
To a non religious person Faith could be seen as illogical. It suggests a blind will to dismiss common sense, logic and reason. To those who have Faith this suggestion would be rather insulting. People with Faith are simply enlightened, unlike those without it. The Bible itself says that Faith is, "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11)
In Christianity, Faith is not concerned with obedience to a given set of rules; it is about learning God's teachings and understanding what those teachings mean to the individual. Clearly the Bible plays a huge role in this process which is why I opened this essay with a quote. It's a rather important quote in my opinion as it offers an insight into Jesus' teachings on homosexuality (depending on your interpretation of it). More than 2,000 years have passed since Jesus was born and society and culture has changed beyond comprehension since then. Clearly, some fundamental aspects of society haven't changed but the world in which we live in now is very different to the world that surrounded Jesus.
I'm not going to quote the numerous passages from the Bible that are often used to back up arguments that suggest hypocrisy in religion. You know, the one about not having sex with your wife if she is on her period or the one that says an adulterous man should be put to death. They are there though and sometimes are written so clearly and explicitly that it seems impossible to interpret them in any other way. So why don't those who insist that the Bible teaches against homosexuality also insist that these teachings are also upheld in our modern world? Well society would not allow it. Our attitudes have changed. There was a time when women were drowned for being accused of practising witchcraft. How ludicrous would it be for us to suggest we bring back that practice? Completely ludicrous.
I know that there will be those who are reading this now who feel that as a non-Christian I simply do not understand what I'm talking about because I do not understand God. Well I don't really care what these people think to be honest. I respect everyone's right to believe in what they want to but as soon as those beliefs (and that's all they are, beliefs) start to impact on my life and the lives of millions of other LGBT people around the world, that's when I adopt the 'I don't really care' stance. I'm a polite person, I'm a caring person and I believe that I live my life in a good way, always looking out for others and trying to make the right choices. I was born gay (there's no debate here so let's not even entertain the idea) and I choose to act on those feelings of same sex attraction, something that others may see as a sin.
The thing is I know that I live my life trying to do the best I can for my self and those in it. If God exists in a form that enables Him to judge, punish or reward, then I'm pretty confident that I'll be OK thank you. I think that life is not about what you believe or preach or challenge but about what you do. Those who use religion to mask sexism or homophobia have missed the point. If God exists in the form I mentioned then surely don't you think that he may be setting us challenges every day to test our own morals, standards and ability to show love to one another? I do. Maybe some of those passages in the Bible are examples of that; curve balls to test our ability to think on our own and make decisions based on what we feel not what we are told. He gave us the ability to question; maybe we should use it more than we do.
I always knew that this essay wouldn't be specific, tidy or particularly focused because of the nature of its subject. What I wanted to do was to simply lay out my stall and try to explain how I see my place in this world, a world where millions of people worship different Gods and have different beliefs. A world where millions of people have died and suffered in the name of religion, arguably doing what they felt God was asking them to do. It's not about being right and it's not about being wrong. Life is about doing what you think is right for you and those who you love. It's not about pleasing any Gods that may or not exist in various guises, it's about learning and growing and challenging your own ideals to ensure that you live a life that you would be happy with when it's all over.
I don't need a book to tell me how to do that but I understand that others do. I think some of the stories in the Bible are amazing and teach us so much about how we should treat our fellow human beings but surely life isn't about doing what we're told. That would be far too easy. It's about doing what we feel is right and there's a difference.
Jesus was born in a stable. When I visited the Vatican a few years ago I was astonished at the riches that were seemingly being hoarded and also displayed to the visitors. I'm sure the Pope loves to look at all of the shiny things but is that really what Jesus taught people was important? I'm no expert, but based on what I was taught in school I actually think Jesus would be pretty disgusted at the obsession with material wealth the Catholic Church seem to have. But what do I know?
I just hope that as human beings we all continue to question what we're taught and look inside ourselves for the answers, not to simply do what other people tell us to. If you're really and truly against marriage equality then maybe spend a bit of time thinking about what your views on divorce are. If you believe that being gay is just fundamentally wrong then maybe you should question why you think it is. Is it because you think that's what you should believe or is it because the idea of two men kissing and sleeping together makes you feel a bit sick. Be honest. I have straight mates who have no issue with me being gay but we don't talk about the physical aspect because it's not something they feel comfortable doing. Does this bother me? Not at all. I don't particularly want to hear about their heterosexual exploits! But I appreciate their honesty. The fact that we have different ideas of what is 'normal' in our sex lives doesn't mean that we can't be friends.
It would be impossible to live your life as the Bible suggests in every way possible in 2013. If it's necessary to adapt, pick and choose these aspects to fit life in 2013, then all I hope is that people don't let their closed-minded attitudes dictate which parts of the scripture they choose to ignore and which they choose to follow.
As always I encourage and look forward to your comments!
@rucomingoutRead past blog entries by clicking here . . .
A few things crossed my mind when I watched Jodie Foster's speech at this year's Golden Globes where she was handed the Cecil B. Demille award for her career in film. The first thing that took me by surprise was that she is 50 years old; she's certainly looking good for it. I like Jodie Foster and I've always regarded her as somewhat underrated. I know she's been nominated for the best actress Oscar four times (winning twice) but still, her decision to shy away from the pull of the Hollywood celebrity lifestyle has in my eyes, resulted in her often being overlooked in debates about the best female acting talent. I guess she's my female William H. Macy (if we forgive his turn in Jurassic Park 3). For years now the gay rumour machine has been working overdrive when it comes to Foster's orientation, the general concensus being that she's gay but simply not comfortable talking about it in the public arena. And why should she have to?
In a recent interview with rucomingout
, Scissor Sisters' front man Jake Shears said that, "gay celebrities at least have the responsibility to come out." When I published Shears' interview I was really interested to hear what other people though about that particular comment. The reaction was pretty mixed. Many people agreed that as role models to young (and older) lesbian, gay and bisexual people who may be looking for inspiration - actors, popstars, sportsmen and politicians shouldn't waste such an amazing opportunity to show that you don't have to settle for low aspirations just because you aren't straight. Other readers of the website had completely opposite views and suggested that Shears was irresponsible and insensitive in his comments. I have to say that I could kind of see both arguments.
Coming out means very different things to all of us. Some of us see it as making a statement, being proactive in standing up and saying proudly, "this is who I am and I am happy". Other people feel that as long as there's no outright denial of one's sexuality, a purposeful lie to hide possible embarassment, then that's also a job well done. I don't think that anyone has a duty to stand up and shout to the world about their sexual preference if they choose not to, however, I do feel that if you are at a point in your life where you are comfortable with who you are then you have a duty to yourself to feel able to talk about your sexuality in relevant situations without fear or shame. However, although we've come a long way in gay equality, this still isn't always easy to do whether you're famous or not.
I have always respected Jodie Foster for not bowing down to media and public pressure and talking about her private life in interviews where she is only required by contract to sell the film she's currently staring in. Does this make her less accessible to her fans? Yes, of course it does. Does it make her less of a role model? Of course not. People should not idolise Foster because she is a lesbian. Young girls (and boys) should look up to her and admire her work because she's an amazing talent. However, she isn't an amazing talent because
she is a lesbian. Foster has a natural talent (she's been working since she was three years old) and a great work ethic. She is selective when it comes to choosing her films which can be seen in her relatively limited filmography. These are the reasons why she should be admired and looked up to.
The majority of young lesbian, gay and bisexual people who may be struggling with their sexuality in 2013 won't grow up to be Golden Globe winners. They will be shop workers, Doctors, lawyers, teachers, hairdressers, builders, office workers, travel agents, engineers, charity workers, volunteers. That's not to say that our future film stars, pop stars and Olympians aren't these same people struggling with their sexual identity, but the voices of inspiration they need to hear should come from everyone, not just someone who graces magazine covers around the world. Why should Foster, Shears, Cooper, De Generes and Thomas shoulder this responsibility simply because the career they chose happens to make them recognisable if you were to pass them in the street?
The reason I respect Foster is because she used her speech to defend her right to protect her and her family's privacy throughout her career. She hasn't kept quiet specifically about her sexuality all these years, she's simply not comfortable with the idea of laying her private life out in the public domain for all to pour over. Part of me felt sorry for her standing up there on that stage in front of her peers, her family and the rest of the world. She was being rewarded for her skills as an actress not for being a lesbian and yet she felt she had to at least refer to it. It may sound strange coming from the founder of a website that encourages people to share their coming out stories with others, but I kind of wish she hadn't have bowed down to that pressure after all. She didn't ask to be a lesbian and she doesn't have to talk about it if she doesn't want to. The acknowledgment of her 'modern family' and reference to her long term (now ex) partner Cyd was enough for anyone still needing that confirmation that Foster is gay. This wasn't a coming out speech because as she said, she 'already did [her] coming out about a thousand years ago'.
What Foster has achieved with that speech however is to make people all over the world look at what coming out means today, in 2013. The day WILL come when people don't have to live in the closet because coming out won't be seen as a huge shock to people. That day isn't here yet though and we have a long way to go until it is. It's great when public figures stand up and talk about being gay but it's also great when those of us who don't act, sing or play sport as a living stand up and talk about our experiences (both positive and negative) of being gay.
I would love for Jodie Foster to one day write about her experiences of discovering her sexuality and her coming out, but only because I think it would be a really interesting read. If this never happens I'm not going to think anything less of her as an actress, human being or lesbian. Everyday heroes exist around us. Since this website started almost a year ago over 125 people have written and shared their coming out stories
with the world with the soul purpose of trying to make other people, who may be going through what they did, feel hopeful about their futures. I'd ask any gay, lesbian or bisexual person who has criticised Foster for being so tight-lipped over the years over her sexual preference to do the very thing they are criticising her for not doing. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you write and send me your coming out story I will
publish it and it will
help people. Whether or not you choose to do so is your decision and one that no one else has the right to judge you for.Wayne Dhesi
Founder of rucomingout.com
"Queers. Because I'm queer. I'm gay. I'm homosexual. I'm a poof, I'm a poofter, I'm a ponce. I'm a bumboy, baddieboy, backside artist, bugger. I'm bent. I am that arsebandit. I lift those shirts. I'm a faggot-ass, fudge-packing, shit-stabbing uphill gardener. I dine at the downstairs restaurant, I dance at the other end of the ballroom. I'm Moses and the parting of the red cheeks..." ...
Stuart Jones in Queer as Folk (Russell T Davis/Red Productions/ 2000)
He tackles the negatives head on in a scene that, despite being 12 years old, is still as powerful now as it was then. I was called 'Lemon' throughout my high school years. I have been called poof, lezzer and dyke since coming out. At the time, I laughed off the comments as I recognised the idiocy and the sad lives of the people saying them. That doesn't mean they didn't hurt. My name is not lemon, not puff, not lezzer, not dyke, it's Clare. The easiest way for someone to express their homophobia is to call someone a derogatory name. It may be lazy but it is a rather effective weapon in belittling someone.
I have a question. Has the word Queer been reclaimed as a positive word to represent LGBT interest?
I have never really had cause to think about this until recently. I have spent the last few months in the Czech Republic and while searching the internet for suggestions of things to see and do in Prague I came across a website called www.praguewelcome.com
which is 'Prague's official tourist portal'. My first instinct was to browse the gay pages. I was taken aback when I saw that the gay section was headlined 'Queer'. Queer activities, Queer community, queer, queer, queer. My first and what I assumed was my natural instinct was to be insulted. Queer is a homophobic term surely? I was outraged but then I started to think about it a bit more logically There is a bar on Manchester's Canal Street called Queer. I have referred to myself as Queer. I have friends who use the term Queer instead of Gay. Peter Tatchell hashtags #Queer in his posts. Is Prague's tourist portal actually more modern and relevant than I give them credit for? Is Queer the accepted translation for homosexuality in the Czech Republic? Have I become Mary Whitehouse in my prudishness?
I emailed praguewelcome.com asking them why they chose the word Queer for their subtitle? I got a response confirming what I was dreading. I really have become old and behind the times! It was actually a brilliant email. They told me that Queer was recommended by the Czech Gay and Lesbian Society in Prague as it is an 'umbrella term' for sexual and gender minorities used all over Europe. They even signposted me to the website for the Czech Gay and Lesbian film festival which was taking place at the time. It's actually called the Mezipatra Queer Film Festival.
So my initial reaction of insult and anger has now turned into pride (and slight embarrassment). A nation that still plays Chumbawamba on their airwaves has taught me a valuable lesson in being more willing to question my opinions. I now believe it is possible to successfully reclaim a word that has previously been used to inflict so much distress and pain. Still, if I ever hear Ann Widdecombe say Queer I will still take it as an insult!
How do you feel when you hear the word Queer? Do you think that it is possible for groups to reclaim words that have previously been used to insult them? Is language even important?
I'd love to hear your comments. Please use the comments facility which you will find below.
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Last night I watched a documentary on the British channel BBC Three about the controversial subject of Gay Conversion Therapy. The programme caused an outpouring of anger, frustration and above all disagreement amongst gay, lesbian and bisexual people on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. I was angry. I was frustrated. However, I found myself beginning to finally understand the concept of GCT. I've always thought that the idea was to 'switch off' someone's sexuality and for people who were going through the process to 'learn' how to fancy the opposite sex. I was wrong.
We were shown a 17 year old boy who had same sex attractions. In other words he was gay. By the end of the show we were shown that he was now in a relationship with a girl. Success! Well, not really. The boy admitted that he still had same sex attractions (in other words he was still gay) but he simply chose not to act upon them. So there we have it! It's pretty simple. Any sane person, gay or straight, understands that you can't switch off sexuality. I don't think Gay Conversion Therapy is about this though, it seems to be about choosing not to act on that attraction to the same sex. This opens up a whole new argument, an argument that I've thought about for over 10 years.
I came out when I was 21 but I knew I was gay when I was 15. During the years between 15 and 21 I guess you could say I carried out my own Gay Conversion Therapy and I'd bet that I wasn't in the minority. I tried to convince myself that I could hide my sexuality. I tried to ignore the fact that I fancied men and I forced myself to imagine how much easier my life would be if I was straight. It WOULD be easier. I would not have to come out to anyone, I would be able to have kids the 'natural' way and I wouldn't have to disappoint anyone. Like I said, I'm pretty sure that I wasn't the only closeted person to go through these thought processes. Now here's the difference between me and the 17 year old we met on 'Gay to Straight' last night. I decided that being gay wasn't wrong. I began to accept that I was different but not ill. I told myself that I didn't have a 'condition' and therefore it couldn't and shouldn't be treated. I understood that for whatever reason I was not like the majority of the population who found the opposite sex attractive. I knew that my life would be more complicated than my straight friends' in regards to relationships, at least for the first part of my adult life anyway.
The reason I say that I began to understand what Gay Conversion Therapy is while watching the programme is because I finally saw through the false science, made up statistics and 'success' stories that we are often presented with when we see programmes on this subject. I saw through all of this and was presented with a homophobic father who did not want his son to be gay because he thought it was disgusting. "God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve", he said with an air of arrogance that his wife seemed to gush over. This is when everything clicked into place and things became a lot clearer to me. Of course it's impossible to switch of someone's same sex attraction and surely, that's what makes someone gay (or bi). Of course we should all be angry and frustrated at the programme but what people seemed to miss was the reasons why these men had enrolled onto the course of therapy. They enrolled because they were scared of disappointing their families and friends who were very vocal about their dislike of homosexuality.
This is what GCT is all about. Forget the group hugging in the forests, the manly embraces that were allowed as long as you said you were not getting any sexual pleasure from it and forget the ludicrous claim made by an 'expert' that no gay man has ever had an emotionally healthy relationship with their father. All of that is obviously complete crap and serves simply as a smokescreen to cover up the rampant ignorance to homosexuality that still exists in many parts of the world.
So I do now understand what Gay Conversion Therapy is all about. It's a form of abuse that parents (not necessarily homophobic parents, but stupid at least, selfish for sure) inflict on their children because of their own selfish beliefs.
I know that people take part in these camps and schools of their own free will but here's the question that the programme failed to even ask - Why do so many gay men and women around the world NOT feel the need to convert? I'd suggest that it's because they have more supportive and understanding families, live in more forward thinking communities or simply have been allowed to come to their own conclusion that being attracted to the same sex is not wrong.
I get that two men can't conceive children naturally and without procreation the human race would in theory eventually cease to exist. But what does this really mean? Some men and women cannot have children, some men and women choose not to have children. We don't send them to Conversion Therapy where they learn how to hate themsleves do we? Of course not, that would be just as ridiculous as sending a 17 year old gay man to a camp where they take their shirts off and play catch with other gay men.
I understand Gay Conversion Therapy now. I understand that I do not need to frustrate myself by even bothering to argue with the false data and fake science. I understand that I should empathise more with the boys and girls, men and women who are sent to these groups or who are made to feel it's their only option. I understand that as a society we still have years to go before we can say that we're truly civilised. I also understand that until every parent everywhere not necessarily agrees with being gay but at least respects their children's right to embrace it, there will be more teen suicides, more cases of self harm and more miserable teenagers growing up in a world that doesn't allow them to live, but simply exist.
I finally understand it - but I still don't like it.
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In the Sunday Times last weekend, gay Hollywood actor Rupert Everett said that he, "...couldn't think of anything worse than being brought up by two gay dads." Now I just want to say now that this blog entry isn't going to be concerned with trying to pointlessly destroy Everett's character or beating down his comment with aggressive gay defense talk. However, Everett's comments did bring the debate about gay parenting back into the public sphere again and so I thought it would give me the ideal opportunity to stick my oar in! So here goes.
An important thing to note is that Everett wasn't misquoted. He went on TV to defend his views this week where he said, "I’m not against anybody doing anything. I think the reason that’s great about living in England, is we can do more or less what we want. Just I, personally, feel like that. But it doesn’t mean to say,…I have lots of gay friends with children, I have lots of gay friends who have got married, I’ve been to lots of gay weddings, but I’m not big into marriage straight or gay to be honest."
Everyone is entitled to their opinion and as I said earlier, this blog isn't really about Everett, it's about his view; a view that is shared by many people around the world. A view, that for many reasons, I feel is ignorant and quite offensive to gay parents and children of gay parents.
In 2011 the number of children in care in England increased from 64,400 to 65,520 from the previous year. The majority of these children were living with foster parents, but almost 8,000 were in some kind of residential care. Now I'm not sure if you're shocked by those figures or not. I can't really say what my guess would have been before seeing those numbers to be honest but whichever way you look at it, it's pretty clear to me that there are a lot of children in England (and throughout the rest of the world) who are growing up outside of a loving home with a family who take care of them, love them, ecourage them and ultimately shape their futures.
There are various reasons why children are taken into care, but shockingly out of those 65,520 children who were living in care during 2011 in England, 40,410 were doing so because of family neglect or abuse in their family home. A further 8,930 were in care due to 'family dysfunction'. I couldn't find figures that broke down how many of these families were headed by gay parents but my assumption (and I'm open to discussion about this) is that most of them didn't. I base that assumption on the sheer number of 'traditional' families with straight parents than those with gay parents. I guess it doesn't really matter, my point isn't that straight parents are worse than gay parents, that would be ridiculous. My point is that there are many parents who for whatever reason, are unable to care for their own children, so much so that a huge amount are removed from the family home and placed in care homes and residential units.
I have friends, a couple who adopted their daughter and they do a great job looking after her, loving her and showing her right from wrong. It took them two and a half years from their first communication with the adoption agency to the point at which they were given custody of their daughter and this time was filled with interviews, observations and judgements being made as to whether they would make good parents. They obviously passed the relevant tests and it was decided that they were suitable to take care of a child. My friends are a straight couple by the way. No one could disagree that this little girl is better off in their care, growing up in a loving and caring home. So then, what if my friends were gay? What if they were two men? Again, I suggest that the little girl's home with her two dads would be a much more stable environment for her to grow up in rather than a care home. "But she won't have a mum", some people will say. "The poor thing will get bullied at school", others will claim.
The fact of the matter is that the little girl, if adopted by two gay men who were in a loving, stable relationship, who had passed all the same tests as any couple going through the process, would be growing up in a safe, nuturing home rather than an under-funded, resource-stretched care home with no mother OR father figure to speak of. As for the bullying at school issue - children get bullied for having the wrong trainers, it doesn't mean we should ban cheap brands of footwear does it? In my experience as a youth worker, schools want to do their best to stamp out any kind of bullying and so the reason for the bullying is not really important. We can't deny a child a loving home just in case some of their classmates may have an issue with it years down ther line.
I would hope that the majority of you would agree that a child placed in a loving home with gay parents would be emotionally better off than if they were to be raised in the care system. If you don't then I'm happy to hear your argument. There's a comments box underneath for a reason! However, this brings me on to the crux of the entire debate I guess - Is having gay parents worse than having both a mum and a dad? The answer? It depends on the parents. It's as simple as that. I could use the argument that most gay dads or gay mums who have kids would have made the conscious decision to do so which would suggest that the child would be wanted. But it's not always the case that unwanted pregnancies in straight couples produce unloved children. I could use the argument that in my job I've met some truly awful mothers and fathers who beat their kids, abuse them and show not an ounce of love towards them; straight mothers and fathers. But we know these parents exist. I could start talking about children who grow up in single parent families without a mum or dad and play devil's advocate in suggesting that these children will somehow grow up damaged due to having an absent parent. I find this suggestion offensive. I know many single parents who make it their life's goal to give their kids a good life and the lack of a second parent does nothing to shake that.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that people who share Rupert Everett's view that children being brought up in families with same sex parents are somehow predisposed to a less enriching life than those in a 'traditional' family, should stop and consider what it is their suggesting.
In an ideal world Dad wouldn't take heroin in front of his kids.
In an ideal world Mum wouldn't be an alcoholic and forget to pick her kids up from school.
In an ideal world Dad wouldn't beat the crap out of Mum with the kids listening from upstairs.
In an ideal world Dad wouldn't have an affair and leave Mum to raise their kids on her own.
In an ideal world Mum wouldn't die of cancer leaving dad to raise his three young daughters.
We don't live in an ideal world Rupert, we live in the real world where bad shit happens. Having both a mother and a father isn't a magical recipe for a golden childhood, it can be, but that's dependant on the quality of the parenting, the love they have for their children and the relationships they work on forging with their children.
Parents should be judged on their parenting not on their sexuality. Kids are tougher than we give them credit for sometimes but one thing I'm certain of - I'd much rather have two dads who wanted me, loved me and worked two and half years to prove to some strangers they could care for me, than a mum and a dad whose lives I was simply a part of.
Founder of RUCOMINGOUT
Figures taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-15091270
Read about Rupert Everett's comments on gaystarnews http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/rupert-everett-defends-controversial-comments-gay-parents190912 .
I think I’m going to find this blog entry really easy to write – the reason I say that is because I know exactly what I want to say and for the first time, I’m not really too bothered if I offend anyone in the process. I guess I'm fed up of trying to be diplomatic, not wanting to offend the groups who seem to take sick, twisted pleasure in insulting people who just happen to be different to themselves. That may sound slightly arrogant but do you know what, I don’t care! Since I launched rucomingout four months ago, I have been so careful not to upset anyone with my views on gay and lesbian lifestyles, not wanting to sound like a ‘militant homosexual’ as I have been called before, and definitely not wanting people to think I’m a straight-hating, narrow-minded gay-obsessive. I’m none of those things.
I went to World Pride 2012 last weekend which this year was held in London. Now, I’m sure we all know about the controversy surrounding the plans for the event and the scaling back of certain aspects. My opinion? Not really that important to me. Pride is about the people, always has been and always will be. We don’t need a big name DJ, well-known popstar or Hollywood actor to create a sense of occasion, WE ARE THE OCCASION!!!
This was my first Pride London (I’ve been to Birmingham Pride three times and Manchester once) and I was really excited, especially as I was looking forward to sharing the project with lots of new people from all over the world. So with leaflets in hand and a packet of Nurofen in bag (I used to be a Boy Scout - be prepared!) I made my way to the big smoke with my pal Chris. Neither of us really had any plans for the weekend other than to meet up with a few friends at various points in the day on Saturday and find somewhere with a well stocked bar and a late license for the night time.
It turned out that all of the people I was due to meet up with were either not quite ready yet or were busy for the next few hours so Chris and I busied ourselves by handing out fliers for rucomingout, taking photos around Trafalgar Square and finding a Boots so Chris could buy some aftershave! One of the things I love about any Pride event is the fact that people talk to people who they don’t know. Pride is friendly. People are there to celebrate difference and a key part of that is to connect with people who you wouldn’t normally connect with.
That could just mean that you speak to people from a different city, people with different jobs, of different generations or people dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland. I met an amazing man who must have been in his 70s who had made friends with a couple of guys in their late 20s or early 30s. Their differences were overshadowed by their commonalities. They were all gay and could relate to the struggles that each of them had faced at some point in their lives. This commonality united them but didn’t define them. They laughed, joked, introduced one another to strangers they had just met and posed for photographs. This is why Pride is beautiful and this is why Pride is still needed in 2012.
I hate to judge and to make assumptions; I always base my opinions on what I know, things I’ve witnessed or experienced and try and always make balanced statements. Take a look at the picture I’ve posted here of the older gent holding the sign and his new friend:
Now I want you to be honest, completely honest with yourself. If you saw these guys standing in the middle of a Wetherspoons pub in the middle of a small town or city on a normal Saturday evening would people around them make them feel uncomfortable? Ok, so imagine our friend wasn’t holding the sign. What now? So he might not have a sign proclaiming his sexuality but he might still want to embrace his new friend, talk loudly about gay culture and not want to hide away who he is just in case he ‘offended’ anyone. His new friend may still wish to wear his bright red cravat or his rainbow flag decoration - what now? I’m being honest with myself now. I’m basing my opinion on what I have witnessed or experienced and will try and make a balanced statement. In a huge proportion of straight bars, rather than at a Pride event, in this situation, these men would have to deal with strange looks, snide comments, possible verbal abuse and maybe, just maybe direct insults. Do you agree? Maybe you don’t; maybe you think I’m over reacting and being dramatic. As I said, I’m basing what I feel on what I have experienced and what I feel makes me sad. It makes me sad that people could judge others on the basis that they are different to themselves. How many gay couples do you see kissing or holding hands in straight pubs and bars? How many straight couples? Why? Homophobia isn't just about gay people being beaten up or gay school children being bullied, it's the realtively common but rarely acknowledged homophobia like I've mentioned which I feel has to be challenged - but that's for another blog. I know I alter my behaviour or lower my voice in certain situations in case I bring attention to the fact I'm gay, and I'm ashamed that I do that. Maybe I'm scared of offending, maybe I'm scared I'll be beaten up, I'm not sure. But as I said, that's a whole new blog entry in itself: Gays - Know Your Place!
Anyway, this is why I love Pride. I love Pride because that ‘difference’, the reaction to which very often is the cause of such violence and abhorrent behaviour in our world, is not just acknowledged as good but is celebrated.
Some of you may be aware of a guy who has made it his goal to try and sabotage this project and website. Before Pride this weekend this guy posted tweets saying that he hoped God would wash away the homosexuals at World Pride and that being gay is wrong. I’m not allowed to post those tweets here because I’m breaking copyright laws and this website could be removed. This guy angers me, annoys me and makes me worry. This guy has children and he makes no effort to hide the fact that he is conditioning them to hate gays and lesbians as much as he does. I want to say now that I know many Christians who do not share this guy’s views that God hates gay people. I wouldn’t offend them by associating them with this guy purely based on the fact that they all share a belief in God. I know that’s pretty obvious but in my opinion, if God does exist (yes, I am not 100% sure!) I’m pretty sure that he would find this guy’s behaviour disgusting and very un-Christian like.
I met up with some new friends that I haven’t spent a huge amount of time with before last weekend but who I know I like, respect and will make my life richer by having them in it. I don’t become friends with people because they are gay. I don’t refuse to talk to people who are straight. I surround myself with people who are good, people who can make me laugh and people who are nice. James and Kenny are such people. I have only met them once before this weekend. They’re funny, they’re caring and they’re welcoming. They’re also married, to each other. James and Kenny are brilliant. Not because they are gay, but because of the qualities they have and the positive energy they spread. I had an amazing time talking to them both in Circa Bar just off Soho Square. They introduced me to their friends (gay and straight) who were also lovely. They asked me questions about this website, gave me advice and encouragement, made me feel welcome and were a huge reason why I had such a great afternoon. James text me yesterday to tell me that he had been contacted to be told that he is a successful blood match with a patient who requires a bone marrow transplant. James doesn’t know this person; he and Kenny decided to put themselves on the donor register two years ago because they knew that by doing so they could potentially save someone’s life.
The guy who is determined to close this site down, the one who tweets hateful comments about gays and lesbians, the guy who claims that no matter how many good things you do in your life because you are still evil and will burn in hell if you are gay – this guy is a prick. I’ve been told my many people that I shouldn’t bring myself to his level but I’m not really too concerned about that. I know that I am a good person and I know that I try and live a decent life, helping people along the way and I’m sure that God would respect that and forgive the odd slip up like calling someone a prick. I don't know if the guy who hates gays is on the bone marrow transplant register, it isn't really important, but what I do know is that he wouldn't acknowledge James and Kenny's amazing gesture because they are gay. That's a pretty prick-ish way of thinking in my opinion.
I’d happily change my mind about this guy being a prick if he could show me why I should but I’m not holding out much hope of that. My new friends James and Kenny aren’t pricks – they’re amazing.
Pride was amazing. It’s not a reflection of what living life as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual person is like; it’s an extreme, in your face, over the top, exaggerated celebration of difference.
I’ve always had a bit of an issue with the term 'Pride'. I personally feel that you can only really be proud of something that you have had some input into. I know that not everyone will share that view and I respect that. But I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily proud to be gay – I can’t take the credit for that, it just happened! However, I am proud of how I dealt with the challenge of being gay after I realised I was. I'm also proud to be me and of the choices I make in life. I’m proud of my friends, the old ones, the new ones and the ones I have yet to meet.
So for me, World Pride 2012 was much more than an excuse for a party, more than an opportunity to wave a flag. It was about me realising that I surround myself with people who are nicer than the guy who hates gays and our website. People can hide behind God or their beliefs about what is natural or normal but that means nothing, absolutely nothing. When it comes down to it I think it's all about one question:What have you done today to make you feel proud?
Until next time, I hope you continue to enjoy the stories and the site and remember . . . don't be a prick, be nice!
See our World Pride 2012 - London photo gallery here
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Find out more about bone marrow donation here