Tom Daley dives into homophobia in the Commonwealth in new documentary

Daley explores how athletes and the sports world can combat homophobia in a BBC documentary coming out just after the Commonwealth Games.

Olympic diver Tom Daley under a crocheted rainbow. A new documentary featuring Daley premieres soon on the BBC.
Image: @tomdaley via Instagram

British Olympian Tom Daley will explore homophobia in Commonwealth countries in an upcoming BBC documentary. The film will premiere just after the 2022 Commonwealth Games, where the queer diver will take a stand in support of the LGBTQ+ community and in protest of state homophobia. 

In over half of the Commonwealth’s 56 states, same-sex relations are criminalized, often due to colonial laws left behind by Britain. In Tom Daley: Illegal to be Me, Daley travels to multiple of the Commonwealth countries where state homophobia is most enforced and punishments are the most severe, such as Pakistan and Jamaica, to talk about the persecution of LGBTQ+ people and what the sports world can do to help. 

“I’ve experienced homophobia all my life, competing in countries where it’s illegal to be me and where I don’t feel safe to leave the venue I’m competing in,” Daley said. “If I feel like that as a privileged man, I can’t imagine what day-to-day life is like for LGBTQ+ people around the Commonwealth.”

The gold medalist speaks to other Commonwealth LGBTQ+ athletes for the documentary, such as Michael Gunning, an openly queer Jamaican swimmer, Dutee Chand, India’s first gay athlete to come out publicly, Paralympian and activist Theresa Goh, and Olympian and activist Amini Fonua. He also talks with activists Bisi Alimi (Nigeria) and Carla Moore (Jamaica) about Britain’s colonial legacy and the impact of slavery on Commonwealth residents’ beliefs about LGBTQ+ people.

The documentary includes Daley submitting a collaborative “manifesto of action points” to the Commonwealth Games Federation, “in an effort to create meaningful, long-lasting change that ensures major sporting competitions are open to, and safe for, everyone”.

We’re working on a campaign that we wanted to be more than just something you see in a documentary that you watch for an hour and then move on. We wanted it to be something that actually makes a difference,” Daley said. “LGBTQ+ athletes must be safe and feel comfortable being their authentic selves without fear of persecution or death.”

While he won’t be competing in this year’s Commonwealth Games, Daley will be one of the final people to carry the Queen’s Baton in the Opening Ceremonies, joined by some of those he speaks to in the documentary and accompanied by a Progress Pride flag.

“I learnt so many really harrowing stories – one of the big things that came of it was visibility and being seen,” the diver said on the BBC One Show, explaining the importance of the upcoming historic moment at the Ceremony. The 2022 Games, held in Birmingham, will additionally mark the first time LGBTQ+ athletes will be able to wave Pride flags on the podium, according to The Guardian.

The organisers of the Commonwealth Games describe them as “underpinned by the core values of humanity, equality and destiny,” and state that they aspire “to unite the Commonwealth family through a glorious festival of sport.” 

Thanks to the organisation Pride Sports, the Games will feature a ‘Pride House,’ which will be “a safe space and welcoming, inclusive environment” for any LGBTQ+ attendees to the games, be they athlete, fan, staff, or beyond. According to The Guardian, each athlete’s village has its own mini Pride House in addition to the central Pride House.

Nonetheless, Peter Tatchell, director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, a human rights organisation for which Daley has expressed his support, raised an important point about the Games’ efforts to be inclusive.

“Despite the Commonwealth Games Federation claiming that the games are open to everyone, it would be impossible for a known LGBT+ athlete to be selected for the national team of two-thirds of the competing Commonwealth nations,” Tatchell said. “They would be jailed, not selected – no matter how good they were.”

LGBT+ issues have never been discussed, not even once, by Commonwealth leaders at any of their summits over the last three decades,” he continued. “Surely, in 2022, Commonwealth heads of government should address the state-sanctioned persecution of millions of LGBT+ Commonwealth citizens.”

Daley agreed, stating, “I believe the Commonwealth should be a forum that protects the rights of all its citizens. It should not support governments that make criminals out of millions of LGBT+ people.”

The documentary about Daley’s investigation of homophobia in the Commonwealth will premiere August 9 on the BBC at 9pm, and will then be streamable on BBC iPlayer. The Commonwealth Games begin Thursday, July 29 with Opening Ceremonies at 7pm, and last through Monday, August 8.

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