Tuesday 31 March 2020, 00:19

Authentic Englishman bins 13 years of hurt

Jon Holmes desperately wanted to shake the albatross from his back. He was 20 years old, in his first job, but in the uber-macho, chest-thumping, laugh-out-loud-at-homophobic-gags world of football media in Britain as century XX became century XXI, he was petrified that telling his colleagues he was gay would relegate him from one of the lads to social outcast.

So, the Devon native elected to endure temporary torment until he contrived the courage. Six months passed. Then a year. Then, agonisingly, a decade.

“A football journalism newsroom in 2000 was not that dissimilar to what a football dressing room would be,” Jon told FIFA.com. “It was very male-dominated. There wasn’t many women or people of colour. This was way before there was any talk around diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

“Trying to find your place within that when you’re not sure if you will fit in with the demographic as a gay man is quite difficult. You think very strongly that you won’t fit in. It was really tough. I was in emotional shutdown.”

After 13 years, Jon eventually inhaled his courage fix by meeting his now-fiancé, Chris.

“For me, the pivotal thing was meeting somebody outside of work and falling in love and wanting to share that,” he said. “I was in a place where I was much happier, I felt much more secure.

“I had a really positive reaction. People understood that it was something I’d struggled with for a long time.”

So did professional comfort + personal pleasure = a fulfilled Jon Holmes? You’d think so. Selflessly, however, Jon couldn’t stomach others suffering like he had.

He explained: “It’s only in the last six or seven years or so that we’ve had lots of campaigns like Rainbow Laces, Football versus Homophobia and other inclusion initiatives that have begun to help people and let them understand about the experiences of LGBT people in the workplace and why it can be a struggle for them at times.

“In late 2016, Sky Sports, my employer, came on board with the Rainbow Laces campaign. It involves quite a few businesses and brands – adidas, Barclays, Coca-Cola. We’re known as Team Pride.

“It enabled me to understand more about what the media was doing. There was clearly some areas where things weren’t as good as they could have been.

“We’re familiar with tabloid newspapers and how they sometimes treat Premier League footballers who could be gay or bisexual – a lot of pictures of silhouettes on the front pages of newspapers.

“In the summer of 2017, me and a friend reached out through social media and said: ‘You’ve seen LGBT networks in other industries. If you’re interested in forming an LGBT network for sports media, come along to this pub one evening and we’ll talk about it.’

“That first meeting we got around 12 people. A real mix – some older, some younger. Some people who were very confident in their workplaces and some who weren’t even out in their newsrooms or offices.

“We talked things out. There was a lot of enthusiasm for having a network. We formalised Sports Media LGBT+ and got it set up in November 2017.

“We got our first event off the ground in October 2018. That was at the BBC [headquarters] in Manchester. We had a couple of guest speakers. Tom Bosworth, the Team GB Olympic athlete, and Charlie Martin, who’s a racing driver – she’s trans. They spoke about their personal journeys in sport.

“We had a really good reception. We invited a lot of people and a lot of people from the LGBT community in Manchester came along.

“We wanted to do an even bigger event the following October, so we held that at Twitter headquarters in London. We did a big event around the Olympics with Matthew Mitcham, the Australian gold medal-winning diver, Susannah Townsend, who won gold for Team GB in Rio with the women’s hockey team, and lots of grassroots activists and LGBT people in sport who shared their own journeys.

“We’re fortunate that a lot of organisations much bigger than us have welcome us with open arms and have been really collaborative. In my industry, the Sports Journalists’ Association have been really, really good. BCOMS – they’ve done loads of amazing work on diversity inclusion – have been super supportive. And Women in Football have backed us tremendously.

“We’re now working with different organisations and sports bodies and other LGBT groups to get inclusion more on the radar. People can consult with us if they want any advice, resources. We’ve just put together our first resources pack about how to communicate LGBT inclusion if you’re in the media or comms world – #RainbowReady.

“Another initiative we’ve had going is #AuthenticMe. People are beginning to understand a lot more about mental health. Being in the closet can be a huge burden on your mental health, can really affect your productivity.

“We’re trying to let people understand that if somebody in sport or sports media is LGBT, they’re going to be able to achieve so much more when they are able to be their authentic selves and they don’t have to edit their behaviour to fit in.”

“Our beautiful game teaches us this best of all – the strength of a richly diverse team and the need to be our authentic selves to be able to perform to our best abilities," said Joyce Cook, FIFA's ground-breaking Chief Social Responsibility and Education Officer. “We need to reach a point where people everywhere have the confidence to be who they are – both in sports and the wider society.

“I think the work Jon is doing is fantastic. It's important that people in sports media have the tools to speak with confidence about these issues.”

Football v Transphobia Week, which has been triumphant on multiple levels, ends today with International Trans Day of Visibility. Thanks to the admirable, inexorable work of Jon Holmes, innumerable LGBT people can righteously commemorate it as their authentic selves.