GT (UK) - - COMMUNITY - in­sta­­sleigh­si­mon, @bob­sleigh­si­mon

Con­trary to what the me­dia said a few years ago, I ac­tu­ally came out when I was about 16. I see my­self as com­ing out as a bobsledder in 2014 rather than a gay man.

When I was 16, I did the whole bi­sex­ual thing for a few months, like most teenagers do. Then, one night, while out drink­ing with friends, I came out as gay. I sobered up the next day and lit­er­ally freaked out be­cause I knew I had to tell my fam­ily. It took a few years for them to fully ac­cept me, but I know now they wouldn’t change it for the world — my par­ents are be­yond proud to have a gay son.

When I was ini­tially asked to try out for the Aus­tralian bob­sleigh team, I Face­book mes­saged the driver to tell him. I thought I’d best get it out of the way be­fore I’d even tried out. I’d put my­self in a sport­ing safety net for years play­ing with the Syd­ney Con­victs Rugby Club, which are an in­clu­sive team, so re­mem­ber­ing what it was like grow­ing up play­ing rugby and how I quit be­cause of my hes­i­tant. It was hard to step out­side that in­clu­sive sport­ing bub­ble.

Ho­mo­pho­bia in sport some­thing I’ve had to deal with from grow­ing up play­ing rugby and through to to­day as a mem­ber of

the Aus­tralian bob­sleigh team. Sport is tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered by so­ci­ety as be­ing hy­per-mas­cu­line and unfortunately gay men are viewed as the ex­act op­po­site, or even too fem­i­nine to par­take.

I know that I have to go a bit fur­ther to prove my­self as an ath­lete be­cause you’re ath­lete, but the ‘gay ath­lete’.

With so much ho­mo­pho­bia in sport, peo­ple tend to have it em­bed­ded into their be­lief sys­tem that gay men so you need to get past that be­lief. Although be­ing a gay ath­lete mo­ti­vates me to break down these stereo­types; it’s that mo­ti­va­tion that drives me ev­ery sin­gle day.

I be­lieve as more and more ath­letes come out, the stereo­type and per­cep­tions of gay ath­letes will move a long way in start­ing to put poli­cies and pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures in place, and things have cer­tainly come a long way since I grew up play­ing rugby. You will never hear the N word on a sport­ing any thought or ac­tion.

When I orig­i­nally made the team, I was put into a train­ing camp with other na­tions; this in­cluded Ja­maica, Rus­sia and Brazil. Ini­tially, I was wor­ried as all these coun­tries had a ter­ri­ble track record with the LGBT+ com­mu­nity – not only their laws but how we’re treated in so­ci­ety. What I soon learnt was these were not the be­liefs of the in­di­vid­ual ath­letes and I’ve gained amaz­ing friends from those coun­tries. I hope that me train­ing, work­ing and com­pet­ing along­side them will do its bit in chang­ing opin­ions and be­liefs about gay men for the bet­ter!

For me, pun­ish­ing or ban­ning in­di­vid­ual ath­letes for their coun­tries’ poor hu­man rights isn’t the an­swer — nor is it fair. I of­ten get asked that if I’d made the Sochi Win­ter Olympics in Rus­sia, would I have at­tended? The an­swer is sim­ple: I would. We com­mit our en­tire lives to our sport and the Olympics are the ul­ti­mate goal. Most ath­letes only get one chance; I would never ex­pect them to give up on their dreams for a po­lit­i­cal stand. How­ever, I do think the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee should be look­ing into these coun­tries’ hu­man rights records be­fore grant­ing them the host na­tion sta­tus.

From my ex­pe­ri­ence, the bob­sleigh world has gen­er­ally been pos­i­tive. I’ve come across some ex­am­ples of ho­mo­pho­bia, and have even had a neg­a­tive ar­ti­cle writ­ten about me in Rus­sia, but the re­ward of be­ing a role model to young gay ath­letes is greater than com­ments have.

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