"LGBTI athletes' first biggest challenge is being accepted." | Interview with Simon Dunn
June might be over but we are continuing with the "Pride Month" interviews. Next in line is Simon Dunn, a professional athlete competing in rugby and bobsleigh.
Simon was interviewed by Luca Arfini, a young communications professional from Italy.
What is the importance of sports in your life?
Sport has always been a fundamental part of my life, especially when growing up, as I was a very active child. Unfortunately, when I came out sport became a not so welcoming environment. It wasn’t until I was an adult and getting back into rugby and bobsleigh that I was able to really find my place and feel comfortable. Sport has allowed me to travel the world and gave me the chance to become a role model for LGBTI youth, which is of great importance to me.
When and why did you decide to come out of the closet?
I came out around 15 years of age. It was something where hiding my sexuality was causing me more pain than being open about it. My “outing” during sport was when I formed the national team, so technically I came out as a bobsledder as I’d been out for many years before and I made sure it was no secret. I didn’t want to risk the same discrimination I experienced as a teen in my professional life, so I was very open from the start.
What are the main challenges that LGBTI professional athletes could face during their careers?
Sport is and always has been traditionally very homophobic. LGBTI athletes' first biggest challenge is being accepted and finding their place. Unfortunately, this is why so many LGBTI athletes quit. Discrimination can come from anywhere, be it, opponents, teammates, coaches, fans and even sponsors. You learn to grow a thick skin! LGBTI athletes are often underestimated in their sporting abilities due to old stereotypes and fear. One of my main drives in sport was to prove those people wrong.
Do you think the sports environment has become more inclusive for the LGBTI community over the years? Why?
Within my lifetime the sporting environment has grown a lot more inclusive. This comes down to the presence of more out professional athletes, sporting bodies taking part in pride events and societal shifts.
How can sport contribute to foster integration and equality in the younger generations?
I have so much faith in the younger generation to really make some ground on equality, especially in sport. Sport for a lot of us is a place we go to feel accepted, as LGBTI teens we’re so scared of being rejected and I personally was devastated when my sexuality was received so badly by my teammates. Sport provides a strong friendship circle and comradery, and often a distraction from other aspects of life. If we can work towards creating a more accepting sports environment, this will be one less place LGBTI youth have to worry about. Perhaps, one day it will even be a place they feel most welcome.
What would be your advice to the LGBTI youth (based on your experience)?
Let your ability in whatever your sport may be in speak for you and not your sexuality. Focus on your goals and don’t get distracted by any negatively. Hold your head high and be proud of your sexuality because it makes you the person you are!
7. According to you, what is the future of the new generations of LGBTI people in sport?
The future for new generations of LGBTI people in sport will be vastly different than that of my generation and those before experienced. So many amazing out athletes have proven that someone’s sexuality doesn’t impact their ability to be an athlete. We still have a long way to go and I personally have seen the change and continue to see it every day. I hope to see a time where athletes won’t need to ‘come out’ or if they do it won’t impact their career negatively.