Interview: Tom Daley on homophobic bullying, coming out and trans athletes

PinkNews Exclusive
Olympic Diver Tom Daley chats to PinkNews about why he’d accept transgender athletes, his career plans, and his decision to sign on as a patron for LGBT+ helpline Switchboard.

How’s training going for the Rio Olympics next year?

Training’s going really well! We’re coming up to the World Championships, which is the first chance to qualify for the Olympics. I’m working towards that at the moment.

Do you have any plan for after Rio? We heard a rumour that you might be stepping away from the diving board…

I’m definitely going to take a little bit of time off – after four years, that’s a long slog.

I’m probably going to go on holiday for a bit. Cheesecake will definitely be on the menu, and ice cream probably. We’ll see how it goes!

Looking back at the number of gay sportspeople that have come out recently – Ian Thorpe, Jason Collins, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Michael Sam – do you keep up with any of the others?

I don’t think it becomes a club where all of a sudden you know everyone! You kind of get on with your own thing, training every day and competing, and that’s just how it is.

I’ve spoken to lots of different LGBT people in sport… I get lots of people constantly asking me who they can speak to, where they can get some kind of guidance. I try and refer them as much as I can to Switchboard!

In sport, we have lots of gay role models like yourself, but there aren’t many trans athletes.

The difficult thing with the trans community in sport – I think with the way it works, if you’re a male transitioning into a female, you still sometimes have to compete in the male category? I think that’s a little bit tough.

With diving I feel [trans people] would be completely accepted, but I don’t know how it would work. I’ve never heard of it in sport, actually.

You’ve become a patron of LGBT+ helpline Switchboard – how did that come about?

Switchboard is a great charity. From personal experience, I’ve always had supportive friends and family, and had people to talk to that weren’t judgemental.

Lots of people aren’t so fortunate, and at Switchboard there’s always someone on the other end of the phone to speak to, and not judge you, and it’s completely confidential. Coming to terms with sexuality, gender identity – if you want to go out somewhere… it’s a great information service.

I’m excited to spread the word about Switchboard, and help them reach out to more young people, and help them, essentially, save lives. I think it’s going to be a long journey, and I’m really excited to be part of it.

Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt like you’ve needed Switchboard?

Massively! The more that you have it built up inside you, thinking about things – if you don’t actually speak about these things, they can really build up and weigh you down. I was lucky enough to have my best friend Sophie, who was the first person I spoke to about things. If I didn’t have someone like Sophie and my friends and family, Switchboard would have been a great opportunity to sit down and speak to someone.

If you don’t feel brave enough to speak on the phone, you can email, instant message and so on.

If you were answering the phone at Switchboard, and someone said ‘I’m nearly ready to come out, but I just need some guidance’, what would you tell them?

You have to be comfortable to be who you are! Once you tell one person, it gets a massive weight off your chest – being able to say it out loud for the first time is a massive step.

It’s just about making sure you’re comfortable with who you are, and to be supported. Switchboard is a massive support system for that.

The name is changing from the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard to Switchboard LGBT+ – how do you feel about that?

I think it’s great that it’s being rebranded, it’s not just lesbians and gay people that use the service.

There’s so many people who identify themselves in so many different ways. I think it’s really important, because there’s lots of people who aren’t necessarily educated or know about lots of things and Switchboard has so much information and trained volunteers that are on the other end of the phone.

A lot of people ring Switchboard when they’re struggling to tell their parents.

Being able to tell your parents is one of the hardest steps to do. You build it up in your head as this massive thing, but at the end of the day your parents love you, and they’ll always come around at the end.

It might take them a bit of time, but if you want someone to speak to right after you do it, or before you do it – then Switchboard’s there to listen to you. You can air all your thoughts – how it went, what you’re thinking before you’re do it. It’s there to listen!

How was it for you, coming out to your mum?

You know, it was completely fine! My mum was just happy that I was able to tell her.

She just said ‘whatever makes you happy’, told me that she loved me and that was that! Ever since it’s been great.

Does more need to be done in schools to tackle homophobia?

I think it should be made compulsory, that you not just get taught about sex education – LGBT issues should be brought up in the same way as well.

Having people be educated about it is really important.

With the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, we will now have same-sex marriage in all 50 US states. How do you think that impacts tolerance?

I think if all 50 states of America can get marriage equality, I think that’s a massive step. I think the rest of the world will look at that, and try and make that the same for all their countries too.

We still have work to do over here too, with Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey…

I think very soon it will be marriage equality everywhere, or it should be anyway. If you fast forward ten years, I think in the UK for sure, we will have full equality.

We’re just finishing pride season – do you think pride is still important?

I do think pride is still important! There’s lots of different things that are celebrated, and it’s a great way for people to get together and have a fun day. I think more and more now, a lot of people outside the LGBT community find it really fun too.

It’s also massively education, because once young people have heard about it, it gives them the opportunity to talk about it. Even within families, at dinner tables, talking about it can help.