Olympic diver Tom Daley is no stranger to the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. He spoke openly and honestly advocating for transgender athletes to participate in competitive sports and called on the Olympics to grant hosting rights to countries where homophobia is criminalized.
But in a new documentary called ‘Illegal to Be Me’, Daley takes a hard look at his own country to talk about LGBTQ+ rights, especially the lack of them.
It’s not that he didn’t know, from his own struggles, how harmful homophobia can be. But he had no idea how detrimental its effects have been to British Commonwealth countries.
“Did you know that 35 of the 56 countries involved in the Commonwealth Games still criminalize same-sex relations and seven have the death penalty?” Daley shared a deep dive interview with The Guardian. The documentary is supposed to be a preparation for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
“In none of these 35 countries is it illegal to be me,” he explained. “I went on such a wild learning curve.”
Another learning curve for Daley has been being a good father to his four-year-old son Robbie, whom he shares with his partner, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.
Daley recently spoke about the pressures and expectations of being an LGBTQ+ parent. Although Robbie, who is learning to swim, is “not interested” in diving, Daley seems to be driven by the need to make the world safer for his son.
“In 2022, the World Cup is taking place in the second most dangerous country for gay people, Qatar. Why are we allowing places that are not safe for all fans and all players to host our events? most prestigious athletes? he asked in a post last year. “Holding a World Cup is an honour. Why are we honoring them? Hosting a Formula 1 Grand Prix is an honour. Why are we honoring Saudi Arabia?”
Gay sex was legalized in England and Wales for consenting adults over the age of 21 (lowered to 16 in 2000) by the Sexual Offenses Act 1967. But it continues to be widely criminalized in Commonwealth countries, and Daley delves into some of the documentary’s horror stories.
“I met an athlete in Jamaica who came in with a hoodie and sat behind a curtain with her voice distorted. She didn’t want me to know her name because their life is in danger if she is named “, he shared. “In Lahore, I spoke to an athlete who had to remain anonymous because she is incredibly well known. She had a gay friend who was killed, stoned in the streets. An athlete in Nigeria told me that a of his friends had been lured into a dating app, then stabbed to death and left to die in a pool of his own blood.”
As well as ingrained homophobia, Daley said he learned a lot about British rule that was “not OK”.
“It’s like we’re trying to erase our history by saying, ‘Look how much we’re bringing people together now. But we have to recognize what happened. Hearing these stories, I had my head in my hands,” he said.
Even though there’s more LGBTQ+ visibility in sport, Daley said there’s still a long way to go and the LGBTQ+ community needs to pull together to stop the laws from rolling back.
Speaking of a brewing war between trans rights activists and gender-aware feminists, Daley said: “The LGBT community is so fractured right now on some issues. And that’s when the right is going to get us. They’re going to try to break up. And if you think they’re just going to take away trans rights, you’re wrong. It’s going to go much deeper than that, and we need to come together as an LGBTQIA+ community to prevent this from happening.
With lighthearted moments here and there, the full interview is quite an engrossing read. Head to The Guardian for read it all.