A network for LGBTQ+ people within the sports media world has held its most successful event yet after an evening of panel discussion, networking and chat amongst leading figures across the sport, writes Craig Bratt.
Sports Media LGBT was created by Barnstaple-born Jon Holmes – who works for Sky Sports – as a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people within sports media to share stories, experiences and knowledge. People from across the globe joined the network for the second #AuthenticMe conference, with over 150 people in attendance, as they focused on the 2020 Olympics, Women in Football and Sharing Stories.
#AuthenticMe, which took place for the first time in 2018, held at Media City, Salford, focuses on coming out within sport and the effect that this has on the performance of athletes. It is all about being your true self within your sporting environment – and panellists shared their accounts of how coming out in sports shaped their lives and careers.
“Last year we had Tom Bosworth, the race walker, from athletics and Charlie Martin from motorsport. The event was really well supported and it encouraged us to say that these events and opportunities for people to meet others are really important, so let’s try and help to build the community by having another event with new speakers and different panels,” Holmes explained.
This year’s event, held at the glitzy London offices of Twitter, included stories from Olympic Team GB hockey gold medallist Susannah Townsend, Australian diving gold medallist Matthew Mitcham and British-Jamaican swimmer Michael Gunning. There was also discussion from BBC Radio Cornwall’s Jack Murley who – as host of the BBC’s only dedicated LGBT podcast – introduced England Rugby’s Fee Pocock, Stonewall FC’s Aslie Pitter, blind British para-skier John Dickinson-Lilley and transgender racing driver Rowena Purdy to the stage to discuss their experiences within the world of LGBT sport.
“It’s been great to explore different people’s journeys in a room full of LGBT people and their allies from across the board,” Holmes said.
Setting up the network was something he was keen to do after working extensively with his employers on the annual Rainbow Laces campaign, explaining that he wanted to create something for likeminded people to celebrate themselves and empower others.
“I knew of a few other LGBT sports journalists that were out there through the connections I had, and I’m just a big fan of LGBT networks in general – they get stuff done and they empower people.
“They bring new people into conversations, they help allies understand what impact they can have in their workplaces and environments – and we needed to have that in our industry, just like every industry needs to do that kind of work.
“It is really important that the media is there waving the rainbow flag and doing what it needs to do to help. I think a lot of people look at the overall picture and they think the media is part of the problem when actually we should be part of the solution.”
The network is Holmes’s baby and since its formation has led several events connecting people around the country. He believes that showing the strength of the community in which it can be difficult to be your true self is one of the reasons that it has been successful so far.
“What we’ve struggled with is showing the strength of the community and yes, maybe it’s not as big as LGBT networks in other places and other walks of life but there are some great and very motivational people from the elite level down to grassroots level.
“If people were to learn a bit more about them then their opinion of sport or of particular sports might be different. There is a lot of good work being done on inclusion by some amazing people and they don’t necessarily get the credit they deserve.
“Our role as media is that we have to shine a light on these stories a little bit more and try to find ways to bring those stories to people that have an impact.”
Members of several LGBT football supporters’ groups were in attendance at the event, including the Gay Gooners (Arsenal) and the Proud Lilywhites (Tottenham Hotspur). The importance of these groups’ impact on inclusion was briefly touched on at the post-panel networking session.
A staunch supporter of Plymouth Argyle and their Argyle Pride group, Holmes says that the way in which the League Two club has worked with their LGBT group is a good example of how clubs can promote equality and diversity.
“Clubs aren’t desperately looking for representation and visibility but I think they acknowledge that they need that and I think the place that they’re going to find that readily is within their own fanbase.
“Argyle Pride are a great example of how a relatively small group of people can have a sizeable impact in such a short space of time that they’ve been going.
“They produced a really fantastic video, a short film, with Argyle players last season and got them in a room, and they all sat round and discussed some of the issues that we know are really impactful on LGBT people.”
These campaigns are instrumental in promoting football as a game that is welcoming for everyone and, perhaps wrongly, players are often scrutinised for their attitudes to LGBT people within the game. However, work done across the leagues by the governing bodies including the FA has informed and educated many on the importance of inclusion within the game.
“You’ve got homophobia in football, the difficulties around coming out and how that can effect your mental health if you’re in the closet. They might only be young players but they grasped the concept.
“We should give footballers more credit – they’re a lot more clued up on these issues than people might think, it’s just that they do not get asked about them, to comment, and sometimes we need to encourage them a bit more and show them the impact that they can have.”
Holmes’s network continues to grow and his hopes for the future are simple – that they can carry on helping people and letting them know they are part of their community. Their social media following is constantly expanding and the network is becoming increasingly visible.
“It’s quite hard to get sports journalists together as they are so busy but we’re all about people being able to reach out to us and being a conduit to get the coverage that they want or the connections that they need to encourage them to keep going.
“We want people to feel like they can be a part of the network, even if they’re not necessarily in the media but they’ve got a role which we can assist them with. It’s important that we’re there.”
Interested in joining Holmes’s network, or want more information? Head to sportsmedialgbt.com
Are you an LGBT athlete in the South West or work in the sports media and want to share your experiences? The Independent is looking for people to tell their stories for a new weekly feature and we’d love to hear from you. Email email@example.com if you’d like to get in touch.