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“My husband is blacklisted from Russia”: Tom Daley felt too unsafe to visit the World Cup nation after he came out

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Chris Mandle
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Tom Daley shot for Shortlist Magazine by Conor Clinch

Three-time Olympian Tom Daley on the fear – and defiance – of travelling to Russia and beyond 

We caught up with our favourite smiley and ripped Olympic diver, Tom Daley to chat about ‘coming out’, gay role models and how is husband Dustin Lance Black received threats and attacks after he made the Sean Penn starring Academy Award-winning film Milk.

It can be scary going to countries that aren’t accepting of LGBTQ people. I’ve competed in the Middle East, Russia, and parts of the Commonwealth, where being gay is punishable. I feel extremely lucky being able to compete as I am without worrying about ramifications.

If I’d had a couple more gay role models when I was younger, I might have been able to reassure myself that I wasn’t so different after all. I see [Olympic figure skater] Adam Rippon and [Olympic skier] Gus Kenworthy and love that we have great advocates for the community.

“What would people think of me if my hero is a gay athlete?” That’s what I used to worry about as a kid. My favourite diver was [openly gay athlete] Greg Louganis, but I didn’t want people to know that.

My biggest concern when I came out was: what would the parents of young divers think? Would they discourage their kids from diving because a high-profile athlete like me was gay? I was so worried.

I skipped a competition in Russia in 2014. It was in the wake of my coming out. I thought it was too risky and unsafe. Then, when everyone got back, I really kicked myself for not going. I’d let other people rule by fear, and it weighed really heavily on me.

I knew I had to go back the next year. I wanted to make sure young LGBTQ people in Russia saw me, an out and proud gay man, competing in their country. I realised being there would send a stronger message than me staying home out of anxiousness.

My husband [screenwriter and director Dustin Lance Black] is blacklisted from Russia. He did a big protest there with a massive rainbow flag, and after he screened his film Milk he started getting threats and attacks. So he’s not allowed back.

Small actions have a huge impact. I’m conscious of my platform, so at the World Diving Series in Russia this year I wore a rainbow pin with ‘Pride’ on it. I wanted people to see it and know I was proud, and that they could feel proud, too.

It’s so awful that members of the community take their own life because they feel there’s no hope or no way out. The fact someone gets to a point where they can’t live their life as peacefully as possible is so sad. The laws aren’t there to protect them. I just want people to know there’s hope.

I love seeing the younger generation emphasise the ‘Q’ in LGBTQ. The queer aspect of our community is all about refusing to define yourself and embrace the broad spectrum of sexuality. There’s so much more to LGBTQ people than who they’re having sex with, and seeing people explore their own [sexuality] and refusing labels is really exciting.

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