If there were Olympic medals given out for post-competition press conferences, Tom Daley would be winning gold – again.
The 27-year-old spoke out fresh from the water after taking the medal alongside his diving partner, Matty Lee, in the synchronised 10m platform – the pair won by just one point, narrowly beating Chinese competitors Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen.
But as if the moment wasn’t special enough, what Daley managed to do afterwards was just as striking: he talked openly about being a gay man and an athlete, and emboldened young LGBTQ+ people not to feel discouraged.
“I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion,” Daley said. “When I was younger I didn’t think I’d ever achieve anything because of who I was. To be an Olympic champion now just shows that you can achieve anything.”
He also talked about how it felt for him to come out in 2013. “In terms of ‘out’ athletes, there are more openly out athletes at these Olympic Games than any Olympic Games previously,” he said. “I came out in 2013 and when I was younger I always felt like the one that was alone and different and didn’t fit. There was something about me that was never going to be as good as what society wanted me to be. I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone. You can achieve anything.”
Daley didn’t shy away from talking about his family, either – since winning bronze in London 2012 and Rio 2016, he has married film producer Dustin Lance Black, and the pair have a son, Robbie, who’s three.
“It’s been the most amazing, life-changing journey for me and I can’t wait to go and see them, my husband and my son, to give them a big hug and be able to celebrate on this incredible journey that it has been,” Daley told a Chinese journalist – even more notable, as has been pointed out, because same-sex marriage is illegal in China and Russia and yet Daley spoke at a table filled with Chinese and Russian competitors. His words went out on both nations’ broadcast media. No small victory for those fighting for equality.
And this is why Britain can be so great: because we don’t shut down the voices of champions (and role models) like Tom Daley. Because we aren’t afraid to amplify his story, to celebrate his success. Because we recognise that he’s an Olympic champion who just so happens to be gay. And, importantly, because who he loves doesn’t matter to the rest of us – but what does matter, very much, is to show the rest of the world that he’s not afraid to be who he is and neither should we be.
We’ve still got a long way to go, just like so many countries. We can’t hold ourselves up too high as bastions of acceptance when research shows that nearly half of gay and bisexual men in the UK have been sexually assaulted, at a rate of 45 per cent – 10 times that of the general male population.
We need to keep doing more to fight for tolerance and acceptance of marginalised communities and work harder to teach our children that love, quite simply, means love. And we need to continue to reject hatred and call out prejudice wherever we see it.
The Olympics is an opportunity to unite and feel proud of our country. Let Daley’s gold medal galvanise us all to keep Britain on centre stage – for equality, where we belong. And let’s make it a win for all of us.
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