English Rugby referee Craig Maxwell-Keys has publically come out as gay saying that he drew inspiration from Nigel Owens.
Maxwell-Keys is a foremost official in the Gallagher Premiership and has officiated at tournaments including the World Rugby Under-20 Championship and European Challenge Cup.
He has been out to his family and friends since 2016, revealing his news on his private social media account after the 2016 World Rugby Under-20 tournament in Manchester.
Now for the first time, the 29 year-old has spoken publically about his experience coming out of the closet saying the rainbow laces campaign inspired him.
“The Rainbow Laces campaign brings back into the headlines stories from Nigel Owens and Sam Stanley (an English Sevens and Saracens rugby player who came out as gay in 2015) and their coming out stories,” he told Wales Online.
“While I was in the closet, they were a source of support and comfort. It made it really clear to me while I was struggling to accept who I was, you could be part of elite sport.
“It’s not about who you love but how good you are and that message resonated with me massively.
“I thought I was ready to come out probably two years into my pharmaceutical job and then literally as I was preparing to do that the job offer came up here (refereeing) and I very quickly realised I hadn’t fully accepted it myself.
“You can’t ask others to love you until you’ve fully loved yourself.”
It took Maxwell-Keys a further two years to get to the point where he got to that point.
“I came out just before I went to Manchester for the Under-20s Junior World Championship in 2016. I told friends and family before I headed there.
“I had a really successful tournament actually, and in terms of telling the referees here and the rest of my friends, it’s 6am in an airport before I’m due to go on a family holiday to Greece.
“I pinged a WhatsApp message out, turned the phone off for about eight hours. After a few too many wines in Greece, I turned it back on and the reaction was very positive, to say the least.
“I forgot how much effort it was to keep up that false pretence you spend a lot of energy on ‘what story have I told to this person, what’s the name of this imaginary girlfriend I’m seeing’.
“When that weight is lifted you can be truly, authentically you, and you can enjoy life.
“That energy I spent living a lie can be reinvested into just being me and that was truly liberating.”
He added that his coming out experience has been very positive, and he has felt very supported through the process.
“My personal experiences have been really positive, it’s not an issue or people are overly supportive. That’s both here at Twickenham and across the professional game and also the community game.
“I can understand how powerful other people’s problems were when I was in the closet, so if I can help just one person in that position I was in years ago, it’s a positive from my perspective.”
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