In what is LGBT+ History month, it’s important that society educates itself on the harrowing experiences faced by those that are deemed to be ‘different’.
Two such members of the rugby league community include former Wakefield and Batley prop forward Keegan Hirst and referee James Child, both of whom have been talking about the challenges they faced as young, gay men and how that has made them stronger people.
Hirst spoke about his experiences on the BBC website. “When I was growing up, I felt like I didn’t quite fit in. I knew I was different but I didn’t understand why.
“I was finding that I was attracted to boys but I didn’t know if I was weird, if it was a phase or if everybody was feeling like this and not talking about it.
“I felt out of place, odd and to be honest, a bit scared.
“Looking back, I felt different because I was gay. I just didn’t know any gay people. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it and I thought that being different meant that I wasn’t as good as everybody else.
“I learnt a lot as a teenager about myself but I’m still learning things about who I am even now. And I’m 33 years old. Here’s a little secret for you, adults don’t have it all figured out (even if they pretend they do.) and that’s OK. So it’s completely fine if you don’t have everything figured out.”
Indeed, Hirst had one powerful message that he would say to his teenage self if he could turn back time.
“So, knowing what I know now, here’s what I would say to the teenage me if I could chat to him. Even though things feel scary now, it’s going to be OK. Everybody, whether they’re gay or not goes through a part of their life where they find out who they are. Being gay doesn’t define you. It isn’t a personality trait like being funny, or clever or shy. It’s just something that adds a different flavour to those traits.”
For referee James Child, the responsibility of being the man-in-the-middle has perhaps thrown the limelight ever-more-so intense upon him. An alleged homophobic slur against him in 2014 whilst officiating a fixture brought the issue to the forefront of the sport.
How could the LGBT+ community move forward in rugby league if those on the field were unwilling to welcome those of a different sexuality?
In an interview with the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast, Child revealed he has been the victim of death threats in the past.
The 37-year-old said that by speaking out he was hoping to “help educate people and get us all to be a little bit more respectful to each other”.
“The way I’ve lived my life on social media, I’m pretty open about the fact I have a male partner,” Child stated.
“I don’t necessarily broadcast it, but just live my life normally and that’s the way I’ve chosen to deal with it up until now.
“In many ways, my sexuality and my job are completely separate and it’s irrelevant.
“When I run out there and make a decision, it doesn’t matter whether I’m gay or straight – what matters is whether the decision is right or wrong.”
By Hirst and Child speaking out, it could well provide heart to other sportsmen or spectators who have faced the same prejudices and encounters in what is a powerful month for the LGBT+ community.