Words: Emily Maskell; pictures: BBC
Tom Daley is warning that we’re at a pivotal moment where the LGBTQ+ community’s division could lead to losing rights.
At the opening of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the British Olympic diver was joined by a number of LGBTQ+ activists from around the Commonwealth carrying Progress Pride flags as he carried the Queen’s baton into the stadium.
The 28-year-old has become an outspoken activist in recent years, so much so he was awarded an OBE in part for his work, and he has publicly called out the 35 Commonwealth countries that still criminalise homosexuality.
“I feel we’re at this pivotal moment in the queer movement in terms of holding on to our rights, which are being chipped away at,” Daley said, speaking to the Guardian.
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Daley warns that right-wing forces are a genuine threat against LGBTQ+ rights: “They’re almost trying to catch us off guard because the younger generation has never had to fight for that before.”
“I can see how frustrated the older generation are because of what they’ve fought for. And it’s slowly being clawed back,” he continues. “We can’t become complacent and we need to make many alliances. People need to come together as one. There is power in numbers.”
Daley’s main emphasis lies with the LGBTQ+ community and its current “fractured” state that he says is leaving gaps for rights to be stripped away.
“If we don’t do something about it soon, something monumental will happen and we’ll be back at square one,” Daley warns.
The diver’s latest project is a BBC documentary film, Illegal To Be Me, which sees him advocate for change as he visits some of the Commonwealth countries regarded as the most homophobic and speaks to the top sportspeople, often anonymously, facing persecution in their home countries in an attempt to spotlight the LGBTQ+ struggles that still exist in the shadow of British colonialism.
The project, he says, taught him about British history: “I learned so much about what British rule did that was not OK. It feels as if we’re trying to erase our history by saying, ‘Look how much we’re bringing people together now.’ But we’ve got to acknowledge what happened.”
Also, Daley has spoken out following FINA’s discriminatory decision to restrict transgender athletes in elite women’s competitions.
On the topic of trans athletes: ”If you think they’re just going to take away trans people’s rights, you’re wrong,” Daley adds. “It’s going to go much further than that, and we have to stick together as an LGBTQIA+ community to stop that happening.”
Outside of the context of sports, Daley notes how trans people are being villainized: “Think of the tiny percentage of trans people in the population, and prospective Tory leaders are using that to win votes. I don’t understand why people think they have to be less woke in order to lead a country.”
Daley goes on to note the right wing is “very good at making people fight with each other to create tension and division and fear,” pointing to how same-sex marriage is being debated in America and trans ‘conversion therapy’ hasn’t been banned in the UK, but he has hope in the younger generations when it comes to topics of gender and sexuality.
Illegal to Be Me will be broadcast on 9 August on BBC One at 9 pm.
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