Keegan Hirst became the first British Rugby League player to come out as gay. In a sporting world still not fully comfortable with gay people he’s a deserving recipient of our Editor’s Special Award, supported by aussieBum
"It’s been a bit manic, yeah, but it’s all been good,” Keegan Hirst attests, reflecting on the monumental changes he’s been through this year.
We’re on location for his Editor’s Special Attitude Award photoshoot and chit-chatting (as he says often in his thick Northern accent) about his rollercoaster year. He’s a huge wall of rugged blokey-ness to look at, but his manner is amiable and calm. Exactly how tall are you, I ask? “Six foot six inches,” he says. “Seven foot in heels.” He delivers the line with a wry smile. There’s a relaxed confidence about him that surprises me given the massive upheaval that his life has seen, transforming himself from the 27-year-old captain of West Yorkshire’s Batley Bulldogs rugby side to the world’s newest sporting hero.
The past ten months have seen him, at last, come to terms with his sexuality, sadly end his eight year relationship with his wife Sara, come out as gay in a national newspaper and become friends with Ian McKellen and Elton John.
Despite the headline grabbing fact of being the first openly gay British Rugby League player, the biggest challenge he faced has been coming to terms with the fact that he was going to hurt a woman he loved.
“The day I married her I thought I was going to be with her for the rest of my life,” he says of his wife Sara.
They met when he was 19 but the relationship broke down and the couple separated after the birth of his daughter. At that time Keegan had several gay experiences, but because they never felt comfortable, he didn’t believe that he was actually gay. “As soon as it was done, I was out of there quick-sticks. I felt ashamed, really. I thought I don’t want to feel like this forever, so it was back into denial.”
“I thought it can’t be right because of how bad I felt about it. If I was gay I should be enjoying it. Because those experiences felt like a negative or dirty thing, I genuinely thought I can’t be gay.”
You can read our full interview with Keegan, as well as special features on the rest of our winners from the Attitude Awards in association with Virgin Holidays, in our new issue. It's available to download from 11pm tonight from attitudedigital.co.uk and in shops tomorrow (Thursday October 15).