Tom Daley warns LGBTQ+ rights could go ‘back to square one’ if community doesn’t stand together

Tom Daley has warned that “something monumental will happen” if the so-called “debate” over trans athletes in elite sport escalates further.

The diver, who won his fourth (and first gold) Olympic medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, has previously spoken out against bans that prohibit trans athletes to compete in elite sports.

FINA (the administrative body for international water sport, including diving and swimming) announced in June it was banning trans athletes who have been through any part of male puberty from elite women’s competition.

Tom Daley and Matty Lee winning gold at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games, July 26, 2021 (Tim Clayton/Getty Images)

On hearing the ruling, Daley was furious: “Anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not on. It’s something I feel really strongly about – giving trans people the chance to share their side.”

Speaking to The Guardian, Daley has said that he believes the continued ban on trans athletes is the first step on a slippery slope in an increasingly volatile climate, blaming the political right-wing.

“The LGBT community is so fractured right now over certain issues,” he said, “and that’s when the right are going to get us. They’re going to try to break us down.

“And if you think they’re just going to take away trans people’s rights, you’re wrong. It’s going to go much further than that, and we have to stick together as an LGBTQIA+ community to stop that happening.”

Daley also stated that the global rise of a far-right populism puts these problems into an even starker light: “Things are happening in the States with women’s rights. Then the equality of gay marriage has been brought into question. Then not banning trans conversion therapy in the UK. 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.”

The Olympic gold medallist has become a spokesperson for various LGBTQ+ issues; in a TV interview in October, 2021, he said that the didn’t think countries with discriminatory LGBTQ+ laws should be allowed to host international sporting events. He proposed a ban on all countries with these laws from hosting major sporting events (such as Qatar hosting the 2022 Football World Cup), but has now refined his position.

Daley has already met with the Commonwealth Games Federation, proposing a revised version: “So rather than saying to certain countries you can’t host it, it’s saying that if you want to host it, you have to change. Instead of banning countries, countries will rule themselves out by accepting they are not appropriate hosts because they do not fit the values of the event.”

The changes proposed include the flying of Pride flags and the provision of Pride Houses at future events.

Tom Daley carries the Queen’s Baton during the Opening Ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, July 28, 2022 (Elsa/Getty Images)

Daley is not diving at this year’s Commonwealth Games, which are being hosted by Birmingham, but did take an “historic” stand at the opening ceremony, leading various LGBTQ+ athletes into the arena, surrounded by the Progress Pride flag.

The athletes are ones he met while filming his upcoming documentary Illegal to Be Me, investigating what it’s like to be queer in Commonwealth countries around the world. The Sexual Offences Act 1967 legalised gay sex in England and Wales for consenting adults over the age of 21 (which was lowered to 16 in 2000), but it continues to be criminalised in most Commonwealth countries.

Tom Daley carries the Queen’s Baton during the Opening Ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, July 28, 2022 (Elsa/Getty Images)

Daley has also said that his investigation into the criminalisation of homosexuality within the Commonwealth caused his relationship with being British to fracture: “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.’

“I felt so dark about my relationship with being British. I came away from it with a really twisted sense of what it meant.”

In many Commonwealth countries, homosexuality is criminalised due to the British empire transposing homophobic laws in the 19th Century; 35 of the 56 still criminalise same-sex relationships and seven include the death penalty.

Illegal to Be Me is available from 9 August on BBC One.