BLOG: Jamie Hooper shares why you should support Rainbow Laces campaign

Jamie Hooper Umpire Smaller
Jamie Hooper, Welsh umpire and London Royals hockey player shares his thought on this week's Rainbow Lace campaign. 

Rainbow Laces week is designed to encourage people to show their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGB&T) people in sport, working to make sport everyone’s game.

Is hockey inclusive for LGBT people? I’ve asked myself that a lot recently. My overall feeling is yes, based purely on my experiences being involved in the sport in a number of ways both domestically and internationally, and having been out as a gay man throughout that time.

But I also find that being LGBT isn’t yet something that is talked about freely in a hockey environment. But is that because people see it as normal? Is it just a given that LGB&T people in hockey are totally welcome? Or do we need to do more to show our support?

We have incredible role models on the ladies side of the game, namely in Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh, a same-sex married couple who won Olympic gold on the pitch together. This is a complete game changer in terms of LGB&T acceptance in sport and we will be talking about this for years to come. But I think we can do more to show that it’s okay to be a gay man and play sport. It would be amazing if we could have similar ambassadors for LGB&T people on the men’s side of sport, although more needs to be done across the board, especially for trans people, and that is why Rainbow Laces is so important.

If you are a club member reading this, whether you are LGBT or not, then please think about the following questions - do you know if there are LGBT people in your club, or do you suspect there might be? Are those people fully included within the club? Are any of those people having a hard time potentially coming to terms with their sexual orientation, or whether they can share that with their team members in the changing room, or whether banter sometimes oversteps the mark? 

Think about what you do as an individual and a club to ensure that these people are fully included. And please think about what more you and others can do to show even more support for LGB&T people.

Some of us are so lucky that we get to live our lives exactly the way we want to, to the absolute full, but that isn’t the case for everyone:

  • 47% of LGB&T students who do not participate in sport say an intimidating or unwelcoming culture is a factor in their lack of involvement (NUS Out in Sport study, 2012)
  • In the UK, the number of gay males in team sports under the age of 22 who are not open about their sexuality to some or all of their team-mates is 70% (43% over the age of 22). For lesbians under the age of 22, the figure is 73% (39% over the age of 22) (Out on the Fields study, 2015, referenced in Pride Sport’s ‘Sport, Physical Activity and LGBT’ report commissioned by Sport England, 2016)
  • 80% of transgender people say they have personally experienced or witnessed homophobia or transphobia in sport (Out for Sport survey by Equality Network, 2012)
  • 72% of sport fans have heard homophobic abuse in sport (Stonewall Rainbow Laces, 2017)
  • Only 14% of all sports fans definitely believe they would confront someone making homophobic comments at a sports event (ICM Unlimited for Stonewall, 2016)

This is why it’s important that those of us who have had positive experiences of being LGB&T in sport must talk about it. This is why those of us who are passionate about including LGB&T people within our sport must speak louder and louder to try and make a difference. This message needs to come through stronger as there are people out there who are not able to live their lives to the fullest, people who feel they can’t be their complete self, and people who feel they need to hold things back from their teammates.

One Twitter post from an LGB&T supporter could make a huge difference, and as a collective, we can be even stronger. This is all worth it even to help just one person, as I found out recently.

Earlier this year I wrote another piece about being an LGBT umpire and the experiences that comes with it. This was the first time that England Hockey had released a story like this and it received a hugely positive welcome and had a far bigger reach than any of us were expecting. But we didn’t realise quite how big a reach.

Last month I was contacted by a friend of mine who used to umpire in England and has since moved across the pond to the other side of the world. This friend asked to put me in touch with another young male international umpire who read my article and wanted to talk to me about it, and of course I was delighted to chat with him! He told me that he was having a hard time coming to terms with his sexual orientation and not least about how to approach discussing it with others. He went on to tell me that after reading my post he found the inspiration to start to come out to his hockey friends and his family, and he has received nothing but positive responses since.

I can’t describe how happy this made me and I could not be prouder and more humble to have been able to help this young man, on the other side of the world, all through writing a little about my personal experience. This is why it matters. This is why I do what I do. And this is why a campaign like Rainbow Laces is so important. 

Showing your support for LGB&T people in sport, whether you are LGB&T or not, is such a powerful and important message, and it could even help to change someone’s life for the better.

So, a personal challenge from me during this year’s Rainbow Laces week; don your rainbow laces, rainbow captain’s armband, rainbow socks, and get active on social media. Be proud to support LGB&T people in sport, and be vocal about it!

Let’s keep working to make hockey everyone’s game!

You can find club support tools via the Stonewall website here.