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Tom Daley on his LGBTQ+ awakening: ‘I had my head in my palms. I felt so darkish about being British’

Tom Daley sounds as if he’s nonetheless in shock. Britain’s most celebrated diver lately returned from visiting numerous Commonwealth international locations to analyze LGBTQ+ rights. In fact he knew there have been points; that in a lot of the Commonwealth homosexuality remains to be criminalised, because of the British empire exporting draconian homophobic legal guidelines to the colonies within the nineteenth century. However understanding one thing is totally different from assembly the individuals who stay with these threats every day. It has modified so a lot of his views, he says – not least on what it means to be British.

It began final October, when he stated throughout a TV interview that he didn’t suppose international locations with discriminatory LGBTQ+ legal guidelines ought to be allowed to host main worldwide sporting occasions. He was then invited to ship C4’s different Christmas message, by which period he had refined his place. “In 2022, the World Cup is being held within the second most harmful nation for queer individuals, Qatar. Why are we permitting locations that aren’t protected for all followers and for all gamers to host our most prestigious sporting occasions? Internet hosting a World Cup is an honour. Why are we honouring them? Holding a Method One grand prix is an honour. Why are we honouring Saudi Arabia?”

Earlier this yr, BBC producers urged that within the buildup to the 2022 Commonwealth Video games he ought to discover out for himself simply how onerous it’s to stay as a homosexual athlete in international locations that criminalise homosexuality. Making the ensuing documentary sickened and impressed him in equal measure. Since then, he’s finished a volte-face about banning homophobic international locations from internet hosting main sports activities occasions, and created a manifesto for LGBTQ+ inclusiveness that he’s hoping can be co‑opted by the committees for the whole lot from the Commonwealth Video games to the Olympics.

Daley has a lot to say that he doesn’t fairly know the place to start out. So all of it pours out without delay. “There are such a lot of horror tales. I met an athlete in Jamaica who got here in a hoodie, and sat behind a curtain together with her voice distorted. She didn’t need me to know her title as a result of their lives are at risk if they’re named. In Lahore, I spoke to an athlete that needed to stay nameless as a result of she is extremely excessive profile. She had a homosexual buddy who was killed, stoned within the streets. An athlete in Nigeria advised me one in all his pals bought lured in on a courting app, after which was stabbed to dying and left to die in a pool of his personal blood.”

Once more, he stops, appalled. “Do you know 35 of the 56 international locations concerned within the Commonwealth Video games nonetheless criminalise same-sex relationships and 7 have the dying penalty?” The figures are tripping off his tongue now, however they nonetheless clearly have the ability to disturb him. “In any of those 35 international locations, it’s unlawful to be me. I went on such a wild studying curve,” he says.

Tom Daley, left, along with his husband, Dustin Lance Black, and their son, Robbie. {Photograph}: @dlanceblack/Instagram

Daley is Zooming from the London house which he shares along with his husband, Oscar-winning film-maker Dustin Lance Black, and their four-year-old son, Robbie. A stuffed giraffe towers over Daley, to his facet is a knitted squid, and on the wall is a colored alphabet. “That is Robbie’s bed room,” he says. “We’ve bought individuals round as we speak, so it’s simpler for me to be locked away in a quiet area.” Pretty giraffe, I say. He smiles. “We bought it from an area flea market. It’s lacking an ear. They stated you’ll be able to have it for 25 quid should you preserve the title Benson, so it’s Benson the giraffe.” You might have modified his title, and so they wouldn’t have identified any higher, I say. He appears to be like at me, mildly disapproving. “However I’m not that type of particular person. I’m an sincere particular person. I couldn’t do it.”

How’s Robbie? “He’s nice! Robbie’s bought quite a lot of persona!” Daley tells me he likes to climb up issues and bounce off them. “It scares the dwelling daylights out of me. Lance says, ‘What do you anticipate? You climb up issues and bounce off them for a dwelling.’ Once I look again, I’m wondering how my dad and mom handled watching me do what I do on daily basis and never be petrified.” He says Robbie has lately realized to swim. “This time final yr he was the one child within the class who didn’t need to bounce within the water!” Can he dive but? “No, he’s not desirous about that.”

He has packed a lot into his life, it’s onerous to consider Daley remains to be solely 28. I first met him when he was 17 and making ready for the London 2012 Olympics. He seemed younger for his age (aside from the precocious six-pack) however appeared eerily mature, already a veteran. He began diving at seven, turned the youngest winner of the senior 10m platform occasion on the British Championships and the European Championships at 13, competed within the Olympics at 14, gained the World Championship at 15, and on it goes. Document after file damaged. However that was simply the half of it. His trials have been as notable as his triumphs. In 2011, his beloved father, Rob, died of most cancers, aged 40. Rob appeared so totally different from the younger Tom – he was large and bluff, and didn’t care what he stated to anyone. All he needed to do was defend and assist his household (Tom has two youthful brothers).

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And the younger Tom did want loads of assist. He was bullied in school after turning into well-known, and his psychological well being suffered. Aside from the extraordinary energy and gymnastic expertise required for diving, the calls for have been relentless – 4 hours coaching on daily basis after college, competing repeatedly away from house, ensuring he wasn’t carrying an oz of fats. And when it went flawed, it was horribly painful. Daley had the scars to show it. Again in 2012 he confirmed me a couple of of his struggle wounds – a scar on the highest of his head, one other on his brow, and a muscular stalactite of scar tissue on his higher arm the place he had torn his tricep. He advised me that the impression on his physique, coming into the water at 35mph, was “like having a automobile crash each time you dive”, and admitted “I nonetheless get scared each time I’m going up there.” His former coach Andy Banks had lately stated that as a teenager Tom bought so lonely and distressed away from house that he threatened to leap out of a window if he was left alone.

On the London Olympics, Daley gained a bronze medal within the particular person 10m platform dive. In any case he’d lately been via, it felt as if he had gained gold. On the rostrum, he couldn’t cease grinning. He held up his bronze medal, confirmed it across the area, then lifted it to heaven for his dad.

I ask Daley whether or not he’s stunned how his life has turned out. If he thinks again to the 13-year-old diving sensation, is that this what he would have anticipated for himself? God no, he says. “There are such a lot of issues I’ve finished which I wouldn’t have seen myself doing after I was youthful, particularly being within the forefront of LGBT stuff.” As a result of it was irrelevant to him again then or he by no means noticed himself being a campaigner? “A bit of little bit of the whole lot. I didn’t perceive queer historical past. And I’ve taken the time to be taught and perceive and pay attention.”

If he met 13-year-old Tom as we speak, what would he say to him? “Simply preserve being you. Hold working onerous, preserve your head down and preserve going. Don’t fear about what different individuals say, preserve being you. That’s what I ended up doing, however it will have been good to have somebody reassure me that it was all going to be OK.”

And the way does he suppose that 13-year-old boy would reply to him? “What on earth have you ever finished?” He giggles. “My dream after I was a child was to win a gold medal, and I managed that. However my desires have developed over time – to get married, have a household, and should you’d advised me I used to be going to knit and crochet I might have laughed at you, however right here we’re.” Daley solely began knitting a few years in the past. After he was seen crafting within the stands on the Olympics (together with making a fetching pouch for his medals), his expertise gained him a complete new fanbase of fellow knitters and crafters. Now he’s bought his personal knitwear design firm, Made With Love.


When he got here out in December 2013, he did it in model, on his personal YouTube channel with a home made video referred to as One thing I Wish to Say. He talked about how a lot his life had modified over the previous couple of years – his father had died, he’d gained the Olympic medal and he had handed his A-levels (straight As in maths, Spanish and images). Then it turned extra private. “In spring my life modified massively after I met somebody. They make me really feel so glad, so protected. The whole lot simply feels nice, and that somebody is a man.”

The Sexual Offences Act 1967 legalised homosexual intercourse in England and Wales for consenting adults over the age of 21 (it was lastly lowered to 16 in 2000), however it continues to be criminalised in most Commonwealth international locations. Daley is now absolutely conscious of the variety of these international locations the place he wouldn’t have been in a position to make such a video. How does it make him really feel about Britain? I half anticipate him to eulogise liberal British values, however he’s not having any of it. He says he feels offended and deceived.

“I realized a lot about what British rule did that was not OK. It feels as if we’re attempting to erase our historical past by saying, ‘Look how a lot we’re bringing individuals collectively now.’ However we’ve bought to acknowledge what occurred. Listening to these tales, I had my head in my palms. I needed the bottom to swallow me up. I felt so darkish about my relationship with being British. I got here away from it with a very twisted sense of what it meant to be British.” The way in which you discuss it, I say, you sound as should you really feel private duty. “Sure, I do in a way. That was the twisted a part of it. I assumed: what can I do? I felt very helpless to be British.”

Tom Daley in his documentary, Illegal to Be Me, with swimmer Michael Gunning.
In his documentary, Tom Daley: Unlawful to Be Me, with swimmer Michael Gunning. {Photograph}: Luke Korzun Martin/BBC/Zinc Tv

He reassessed his earlier place on banning homophobic international locations from internet hosting main occasions when LGBTQ+ athletes and campaigners advised him {that a} ban can be one other type of imperialism. “They stated, ‘That’s once more being an oppressor. It’s not permitting a rustic to be taught and are available to the desk and develop.’ The primary factor they stated they needed was visibility. Seeing the Satisfaction flag waved is an indication of security for plenty of individuals.”

The athletes satisfied him {that a} carrot was far more practical than a stick. So fairly than an outright ban, he drew up a manifesto with their assist, based on the precept that any nation may host the occasion in the event that they signed a contract saying the Video games needed to have a pro-LGBT ethos. His manifesto states that host international locations should permit Satisfaction flags to be flown and supply Satisfaction Homes (devoted short-term venues devoted to LGBTQ+ inclusion, range and tradition), together with sensitivity coaching for Video games employees. “So fairly than saying to sure international locations you’ll be able to’t host it, it’s saying that if you wish to host it, you need to change. As a substitute of banning international locations, international locations will rule themselves out by accepting they don’t seem to be acceptable hosts as a result of they don’t match the values of the occasion.” Daley has already offered his proposals to the Commonwealth Video games Federation (CGF). On the opening ceremony, Daley performed a outstanding function. He led out six athletes and activists, carrying Progress Satisfaction flags, from international locations the place homosexuality is criminalised. Daley is planning to current his manifesto to all the main worldwide sports activities occasions and hopes that it’ll ultimately be adopted worldwide.

Has Britain modified since Daley got here out in that YouTube video? “Sure and no. Issues have progressed by way of individuals which are out and visual. Again in 2013, there weren’t many out athletes on the prime of their sport. Folks had both retired or have been in the direction of the tip of their profession. There’s much more visibility in sport.” And but, he says, there may be nonetheless a lot progress to be made. He cites soccer as the obvious instance – there may be not a single Premier League footballer who has come out whereas enjoying, and just one who has finished so since retiring (the German worldwide Thomas Hitzlsperger).

There’s one other factor that worries Daley. He believes that rightwing populism threatens the beneficial properties international locations corresponding to Britain and the US have made for the reason that Nineteen Sixties, and cites the US supreme courtroom overturning Roe v Wade, ruling there isn’t any constitutional proper to abortion. “Issues are occurring within the States with girls’s rights. Then the equality of homosexual marriage has been introduced into query. Then not banning trans conversion remedy within the UK. I really feel we’re at this pivotal second within the queer motion by way of holding on to our rights, that are being chipped away at. They’re nearly attempting to catch us off guard as a result of the youthful technology has by no means needed to battle for that earlier than. I can see how annoyed the older technology are due to what they’ve fought for. And it’s slowly being clawed again. We are able to’t grow to be complacent and we have to make many alliances. Folks want to return collectively as one. There’s energy in numbers.”

Isn’t a part of the issue that the LGBTQ+ neighborhood is at struggle with itself over trans rights? The extent of fury between trans rights activists and gender-critical feminists astonishes me, I say. Daley nods, and says it’s harmful. “The LGBT neighborhood is so fractured proper now over sure points. And that’s when the precise are going to get us. They’re going to attempt to break us down. And should you suppose they’re simply going to remove trans individuals’s rights, you’re flawed. It’s going to go a lot additional than that, and we have now to stay collectively as an LGBTQIA+ neighborhood to cease that taking place.”

So how are you going to reconcile such polarised factions? He doesn’t try to supply a solution, however says one is required. “If we don’t do one thing about it quickly, one thing monumental will occur and we’ll be again at sq. one. The proper wing is superb at making individuals battle with one another to create pressure and division and worry. In the event you ask the youthful technology, no person cares what anyone’s gender is or what their sexuality is. Everyone simply needs to be a human being. Firstly, our planet is falling aside. If we don’t type that out and cease arguing about different issues, we’re not even going to have a planet to exist on. There are particular individuals on social media who’ve a really large platform who can say sure issues that get sensationalised …”

Tom Daley carrying the baton at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, accompanied by athletes carrying Pride flags
Main out athletes carrying Satisfaction flags on the Commonwealth Video games in Birmingham. {Photograph}: Chris Jackson/Getty Photos

Aren’t you one in all them, I say. In any case Daley has 2.2m followers on Twitter. In June, talking on the British LGBT awards, the place he was named Sports activities Persona of the 12 months, he condemned the choice of Fina (the executive physique for worldwide water sport) to ban trans athletes who’ve been via any a part of male puberty from elite girls’s competitors. Daley stated when he heard the ruling, “I used to be livid. Anybody that’s advised that they’ll’t compete or can’t do one thing they love simply due to who they’re, it’s not on. It’s one thing I really feel actually strongly about – giving trans individuals the possibility to share their facet.”

For thus lengthy, Daley has been thought to be a nationwide treasure. However as he takes a extra lively function within the charged debate about trans athletes, it’s inevitable that opinions about him will grow to be divided. In an interview with GB Information, former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies responded to Daley’s speech by suggesting

that as a male athlete he doesn’t have any pores and skin within the sport: “Tom is male and this doesn’t have an effect on him within the slightest … I believe we have now to take heed to the ladies, and Fina have been the primary governing physique since 2015 to really ballot their feminine athletes and take heed to their coaches.”

Fina dominated that transgender girls and women can solely compete in elite girls’s occasions in the event that they haven’t gone via any of the male puberty course of, or earlier than they attain the age of 12, whichever is later. Daley believes it’s a crude, merciless and harmful resolution. “It places sure athletes in a really tough place as a result of they’re both by no means going to have the ability to compete once more, or their dad and mom are going to must make selections simply earlier than their youngsters flip 12. That places quite a lot of strain on dad and mom to make these selections. It’s not the precise message to ship about sports activities that trans children aren’t welcome in the event that they don’t transition earlier than they’re 12.”

Images: Jay Brooks/The Guardian. Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Grooming: Sam Cooper at Carol Hayes Administration utilizing Kiehl’s and Daimon Barber. Crochet Satisfaction scarf: Katie Jones, Examine vest, Trainers and rings, Tom’s personal

Does he suppose that in the end inclusion trumps equity? “No, after all not. However, as human beings, we have now to be slightly bit extra considerate earlier than banning individuals utterly from one thing. If children are doomed to by no means be capable to do what they love, they could properly simply surrender.” I point out a 2020 research that discovered trans girls retain a 12% benefit in operating assessments even after taking hormones for 2 years to suppress their testosterone. “You simply must do all of these research and have the complete understanding earlier than you make any selections like that. In the event that they discover out it takes 5 years, high-quality, 5 years. If it takes six years, high-quality, then six years. However a lot goes into it fairly than simply with the ability to decide based mostly on one research.”

Your considering sounds extra nuanced than the assertion you made on the awards ceremony, I say. “It’s extra nuanced. Having a dialog is totally different from having 30 seconds to say one thing. However total I nonetheless stand by what I stated – trans individuals ought to by no means be banned from sport.”

Is the problem dividing fellow athletes? “Sure. There are particular individuals who have very sturdy opinions about it a method or one other. However persons are attempting to make it an issue earlier than it’s a drawback.” He says the variety of trans athletes in elite sport is minuscule. “There has by no means been a trans diver that has stayed in diving, but individuals have gone mad about it.”

The problem of trans girls even turned the battleground for the Tory management election. Penny Mordaunt, a contestant on Daley’s ITV celeb diving present Splash! in 2014, was accused by rivals of being a “woke warrior” for her earlier assist of trans girls. Mordaunt desperately tried to distance herself, insisting she had by no means claimed “trans girls are girls”.

Is that this what he means by LGBT points being hijacked? He nods. “Consider the tiny share of trans individuals within the inhabitants, and potential Tory leaders are utilizing that to win votes. I don’t perceive why individuals suppose they must be much less woke so as to lead a rustic. “How can understanding individuals’s emotions be a foul factor?” He trails off, misplaced for phrases.

Daley has at all times been one in all life’s planners. I met him once more in 2015 when he’d simply turned 21 and was dwelling with Black, a outstanding campaigner within the battle for US marriage equality. Daley was mapping out his future – a gold medal at Rio, a profession in tv after diving, marriage and children in some unspecified time in the future. He stated he knew he’d be the disciplinarian as a result of he was harder than Black, even if his accomplice was 20 years older. Two years later he and Black married, and in 2018 Robbie was born with the assistance of an egg donor and a surrogate. Each Daley and Black donated sperm, and stated they didn’t need to know who’s the organic father.

As for the gold at Rio, that didn’t materialise. He gained a bronze within the synchronised 10m with Daniel Goodfellow. This time, coming third felt like a failure. He missed out on a person medal, and it seemed as if he was destined by no means to land the massive one. Then, final yr, on the delayed Tokyo Olympics, he lastly gained gold along with his finest buddy, Matty Lee, within the synchronised 10m, after a sequence of near-perfect dives. As in 2012, it was one of many emotional highs of the Video games. Once they realised they’d gained, Daley jumped into Lee’s arms and wrapped his legs round him. A masked Daley wept on the rostrum. He additionally went on to win a person bronze.

Tom Daley crying on the podium after winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics with Matty Lee.
Crying on the rostrum after successful gold on the Tokyo Olympics with Matty Lee. {Photograph}: Jean Catuffe/Getty Photos

Earlier this yr he advised me, “The morning after successful an Olympic gold medal was the primary morning I awakened and actually felt a way of peace. I knew I’d finished the whole lot I needed to do on this sport. I felt I can lastly be glad now.” Has he nonetheless bought that sense of contentment? “Sure. I don’t suppose that can ever go away. It’s going to be a yr tomorrow!” he says ecstatically.

Daley has not dived since Tokyo, utilizing the time to take inventory. He is aware of it can quickly be time to hold up his trunks, however he’s nonetheless hoping to exit with a bang on the Paris Olympics in 2024. As for his future, he’s bought large plans. At the very least yet another youngster hopefully. Then there’s a style line. “I’d like to develop Made With Love and actually go into the world of style.” And the TV profession. “I’d like to ultimately be a TV host.” You’ve already been one, I say. “Yeah, however a correct one. Ant and Dec vibes. Or Holly and Phil.” Blimey, that’s formidable! “Effectively you’ve bought to be formidable.”

In the meantime, his campaigning exhibits no signal of abating. Would he ever go into politics? “Oooh I don’t know. After seeing the state it’s in in the mean time, I don’t know if I’d have the endurance with the opposite individuals.” It’s hardly a no. He may not have many dives left in him, however it feels as if Tom Daley is simply getting began.

Tom Daley: Unlawful to Be Me will air on 9 August at 9pm on BBC One and iPlayer.

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