David Gough has been an instrumental figure in advocating for LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports, particularly in Ireland. The GAA referee who officiated the 2019 All-Ireland Football final came out as gay 10 years ago receiving, in his own words, a “hugely positive” reaction from the sporting world. However, his bravery has not yet influenced others to take the same steps, with Gough suggesting dressing room culture was one of the main reasons that there has not been another openly gay man involved with Inter-County GAA since.
Speaking to Today FM’s Demort and Dave, Gough weighed in on why he believes gay sportsmen are reluctant to come out. He importantly notes that this issue is not prevalent among women’s sports as “there are a number of openly lesbian sportspeople in this country and it seems to be totally accepted.” This is a men’s issue, he stresses, and one that emerges as a consequence of “toxic masculinity in dressing rooms”. David himself admits that he chose to quit playing GAA, rather than facing coming out to his teammates, and states that the difference between being an openly gay referee and an openly gay player is huge.
“The difference is the dressing room culture that exists within male sports,” David began. “As a player, you are part of that team environment but as a referee, I don’t have to worry about that as I am on my own.”
“I stopped playing Gaelic Games with my own club because I didn’t want to face the lads and the banter and the slagging, and I just felt that if I did come out that would all stop first of all. They’d be overly conscious around me. There’s the whole showering facilities and you don’t know what way your teammates are going to take that.”
“It needs a huge change with structures, with visibility, with acceptance, and with cultural mindset, because we are not only dealing with centuries of hegemonic masculinity, we are dealing with decades of toxic masculinity on top of that in dressing rooms.”
According to Gough, there is still much to be done in order to create a safe playing space for elite gay male athletes. However, there have been positive advances that should not go unnoticed. In 2019, the GAA marched in the annual Dublin Pride Parade for the first time, and they are now the only national governing body in Irish sports to have a Diversity and Inclusion Officer. As well as that, they are hoping to welcome their first-ever LGBTQ+ team to competition this year, should Covid restrictions allow.
The referee emphasised that after coming out his life has been “positively influenced and enhanced”, and those teammates whose opinions he worried so much about “didn’t really care” and just wanted him to play football. He went on to say that he is disappointed that he did not give them the chance to support him and hopes that others in similar positions will allow their peers that opportunity.
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