Ian Thorpe revealed yesterday that he was forced to stay in the closet as a teenager because he was asked too early about his sexuality.
Thorpe, an Olympic gold medallist and champion swimmer, who came out publicly as gay last year, was attending a panel on homophobia in sport as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival. Speaking candidly to a sell-out audience, he said that he’d been questioned about being gay before he’d had a chance to find out for himself. Having once said ‘no’, he felt that he couldn’t publicly change his position, even when it became clear to him that he was gay.
Also speaking at the event was gold medal diver, Matt Mitchum, who was forced to change cities in order to come out while training. Other panellists spoke of the difficulty of understanding their feelings whilst under extreme training regimes. Swimmer Daniel Kowalski said he didn’t even realise he was gay until after he stopped competing.
The two main takeaway messages of the night were that each person should be able to come out in their own time, and that sports assocations and coaches can do more to make sure that LGBTIQ sportspeople feel comfortable enough to come out without affecting their performances on the field.
The panel, which also included footballer Sally Shiphard, rugby league player Casey Conway, and basketballer Shelley Gorman-Sandie, followed a screening of the documentary “Out to Win“.
I often feel that there’s too much pressure on sports people and celebrities to come out. Everyone’s coming out story – like any personal journey – is their own, and has to be done in their own time. In the documentary, Martina Navratilova spoke about the moment every gay person comes out, smacks their head and says ‘I wish I’d done that sooner!’ But you can tell someone a million times that it’ll be all right, but they won’t know it until they’ve done it themselves. I can’t even imagine what the pressure of being an elite sportsperson must add to that.
Anyway, it was a fab event, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to hear these people talk about their journeys.