Rugby league tackles homophobia

For the last 5 years in Parliament I’ve worked on a variety of gay rights and equalities issues.  The issue I’m most closely associated with is efforts to combat homophobic bullying.  It’s also important that there are openly gay people in all walks of pubic life.

I’ve often been asked why there aren’t more openly gay MPs.  Actually there are more now following the 2010 election, including several Conservatives.  I am also no longer the sole openly gay Lib Dem MP. (Wikipedia has a limited list http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Gay_politicians_from_the_United_Kingdom )  I often respond by pointing out that there are remarkably few in the media and virtually nobody in sport.  Yet there must be lots of news presenters, football players, etc who currently don’t feel able to come out.

So it was good to attend a Parliamentary event this week to mark the work that the English Rugby Football League is doing to combat homophobia.  The League has worked with Stonewall to produce guidance for clubs on dealing with homophobic abuse.  We were meant to be joined by rugby star Gareth Thomas – the sport’s first player to come out while still playing.  But he was ill.  I chatted to his agent who made the remarkable claim that Gareth is the sole openly gay professional sportsman in Britain and one of a tiny number worldwide.  That’s quite a burden!  We were joined by some other players from Sheffield Eagles, wearing their team strip with “homophobia – tackle it!” across the front.

So congratulations to Rugby League and let’s hope Rugby Union and the various football leagues follow suit.