Why Am I The Only Male Scottish Footballer To Come Out?



Why am I the only male Scottish footballer to come out?

Is football homophobic and what can we do if it is? Those were the questions I wanted to answer when the BBC Scotland Disclosure team approached me about making a documentary.

My decision last September to became the first male Scottish senior footballer to come out publicly as gay was not an easy or quick one. It took a lot of hard work.

I had told my family and close friends 18 months before but it had actually taken 20 years to get to the stage where I was able to be my true authentic self and continue to play football.

I’m now 31 and football is the game I have loved from the moment I started kicking a ball as a small child.

I was obsessed. I played all the time and I was better than most other kids.

By my teens I was I playing for Motherwell’s youth team but I was also beginning to realise I was different from my friends.

I knew I was gay and I fought against it.

I fought it because of the kind of conversations I was having in the changing room.

These were the sorts of conversations young lads have – about girls, being tough, playing hard, and the language used to describe gay men was not what you would call inclusive.

We were just boys and didn’t know any better but it did set me apart from my team-mates.

While going out on the pitch was my relief, I slowly turned away from the game and gave up on my dream of playing football professionally.

In my 20s I started playing seriously again, building up through smaller teams.

It was only after I joined Gala Fairydean Rovers, and became their top goal scorer, that I gained the confidence to be honest about who I am, and felt ready to tell the world.

The response was amazing.

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The overwhelming majority of people were positive. I was looked after by my club, and treated as just the same old Zander by my team-mates.

I’m not completely alone. Other players in Australia, England, and the Czech Republic have also come out publicly. Things are changing.

But there is a long way to go. Nearly 3.5% of the UK population identifies as a gay man.

So with more than 1,000 professional male footballers in Scotland you’d expect about 35 of them to be gay. Yet I’m the only one who’s publicly out.

Why am I the only one who has felt able to do this?

In the course of filming the documentary I’ve heard first-hand testimony from fans, amateur players, and my friend the referee Lloyd Wilson, about how homophobic language makes them feel. About how it excludes and hurts people. About how it damages them.

One player with the LGBTQ+ friendly team Saltire Thistle told me he had tried to come out to his football friends at 18 but he was left shunned and isolated.

It took him another 12 years to tell the world who he really was.

That broke my heart, but seeing him kicking about and chatting freely to his new team-mates gave me huge hope.

There is a lot of work to do. A survey last year showed only 6% of gay men take part in team sports. And many say it’s homophobia that’s stopping them joining in.

There is a problem here, so how do we tackle it?

This season, the Scottish Football Association introduced Disciplinary Rule 81, which results in a 10-match ban for any player or club official who engages in homophobic abuse, or any other form of discriminatory behaviour in and around football.

This has been used 22 times this season. And 17 of these have been because of a homophobic slur or a homophobic action on or around the field of play.

That accounts for 77% of all such cases. That number shocked me.

But I agree when the SFA told me that it shows officials and clubs are feeling empowered to take a stand and report such behaviour.

That is a big change.

I believe education is also important. The SFA and the charity LEAP have a “Football vs Homophobia” strategy, which I support.

I also join the charity “Time for Inclusive Education” in going out and meeting youth teams, talking to the next generation of players about being respectful, kind, and welcoming.

I feel very lucky. I’m now signed to Bonnyrigg Rose, fulfilling my dream of playing in the professional leagues.

It has been an amazing six months for me, but I’m not calling on other gay male players to come out. That’s their business and their decision.

I just hope my story can help empower others to accept themselves.

As one of the fans I met said: “Football is the beautiful game and it deserves to be beautiful for everyone.”

Source – BBC Sport



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