Meet Tom Bosworth, the UK’s newest out and proud athlete training to take part in this summer’s Rio Olympics. You may never have heard of Race Walking (walking very fast, where at least one of your feet must be in contact with the ground at all times) before but he is determined to ensure that he and his sport is widely recognised this summer. He took the brave move to come out as gay on Victoria Derbyshire’s flagship BBC news show. Speaking exclusively to THEGAYUK Tom talked to us before he left for Rio about his plans to ask the man he loves to marry him, how he battled homophobia in school and we find out if his legs are insured for the same amount as Mariah Carey’s.CREDIT: Monty McKinnen for THEGAYUK
JH: How is training going?
TB: Well, I’m in a fairly heavy block of work at the moment. That’s basically lot’s of mileage. Talking something like 120km, 140km a week. That sort of thing. Pretty much every day. Sometimes, not every Sunday but I have Sundays off occasionally.
JH: Are you like Mariah Carey? Are your legs ensured for like 7 million quid or something ridiculous?
TB: I’ve never been linked to Mariah before but… No. They’re not. We have considered it but at the moment they are not insured. A bit risky.
JH: You came out on Victoria Derbyshire’s show in October last year. How was that received with your co-workers, with your colleagues on the track? Did it come as a shock for anybody or did they all know?
TB: Within my inner circle, anybody who kind of knew me personally was aware and it wouldn’t have been a surprise to them. It was a public announcement more than anything and so a few people were shocked to see me on TV. I had such great support in my training team, family, friends, partner, you know, so I was happy in my personal life and able to get that weight off my shoulders really.
JH: Has it been a weight off your shoulders?
TB: You know, I kind of didn’t expect it to make that much of a difference. I definitely didn’t expected the fabulous kind of response and the 15 minutes of fame, if you like, that came from it. I didn’t expect that whatsoever. I realise that it’s quite a responsibility but I’ve had the best season of my life. I’ve set records and won races and won international races and it’s just been amazing. I’ve got to put that partly down to that. Perhaps it did have a subconscious effect.
JH: Were you nervous before speaking with Victoria?
TB: Of course, I didn’t know how it was going to be taken and suddenly, when I was down in the studios in London that day I realised how real this was. The way they did the story was fantastic, with absolute respect. They didn’t make it anything it wasn’t. It was just a message of me being honest and publicly honest and that was nice. Yeah. It was suddenly like this could possibly change my life forever and in some ways it has.
JH: Why was it important for you to come out like on TV? Not many people get to come out on TV nowadays now do they? Why was it important for you to do that?
TB: It wasn’t a decision we took lightly. It was a lot of planning and talking with my family, partner and most importantly my managers. We wanted it to be done correctly. I wanted to find something that pretty much was as unbiased as possible and Victoria’s show is very neutral. It tries to cover every type of story going.
She never comes from any angle to try to trip you up or anything like that. It’s not the aim of the show whatsoever. My manager had other clients on the show as well, and only had good things to say about them. I said ‘okay, this wasn’t what I was planning. National television on a breakfast news show but okay if they want to run this story, let’s do it at the end of the season when there’s no pressure of competing and move on’.
JH: Obviously, it made quite a bit of a splash. I know you must have been asked this a million times, will there be a day when a sport-star’s sexuality isn’t news?
TB: Sports is still behind on it but there will be a day. Other industries have somehow managed to not make it a big thing. In sport, it still is news and that’s just because there aren’t many out players or athletes. As soon as that starts to change, which it is – every year a few more come out and it becomes less and less and less of a story. That’s kind of going to take time and we just have to be patient with that.
JH: Does it surprise you out of the thousands of athletes taking part in the Olympic games that there’s still only a handful of out, visible gay sport-stars?
TB: It doesn’t, because sport is such a macho, strong, have- your-guard-up-environment and I guess a lot of people see it as a weakness or something like that. That’s the image I kind of get. I’ve never felt like that myself because I’ve always been so open. Nine out of ten people have always embraced it and let me be me. We’re in 2016 and thankfully we do have a handful of athletes that are open at the Olympic games.
In a way we almost need to look at it like that, that in four years’ time we can look back and laugh and say, “Oh, there’s only ten open athletes at the Olympic games. Actually, four years prior in London or eight years prior in Beijing, there was only one or there were none.” Actually, that number is increasing and again it will come around probably in four years’ time and they’ll say, “Oh, there’s only 25 athletes that are open.”
It’s all about giving it time. I think that we need to just let those athletes that are out to show how normal a life they can live being an athlete and that’s, at the end of the day, what they’re trying to be. The best athlete that they can be, it doesn’t matter about the sexuality or background, religion, whatever.
JH: Along with Tom Daley, I mean, two Toms, it couldn’t be better could it really? You’re the most visible, out people right now. Does that add pressure?
TB: Not at all. It’s kind of something that I’ve learned to respect because there’s that kind of responsibility that falls on my shoulders. It adds no pressure whatsoever. It’s just nice, actually… I’ve got this new fan-base and new support. I always have everyday messages and just people always sending me support on social media now, which I never used to have.
JH: Have you spoken to the other Tom, since your coming out. Has there been like a little club?
TB: No, no. I haven’t felt the need to. I haven’t spoken to any other athlete that are gay or straight about it. I didn’t feel the need to because of the support that I had and I felt like it wasn’t going to change too much in my day-to-day life or competing for the national team. That just shows how accepting the sports world can be because absolutely nothing changed. I think that speaks volumes really.
JH: Talking about your teammates, how did they react when you told them?
TB: That’s interesting. Everybody’s different really. No teammate on the national team or my training group has ever reacted negatively. Anybody comes into the training group nowadays obviously is aware. It’s just that that typical word, ‘normal’, whatever normal is. Nobody cares. I don’t care that you’re straight and they don’t care that I’m gay. It’s brilliant.
JH: When we talk about sexuality, especially in sports, I feel like sometimes we’ve gone back 20 years. Does it feel weird that your sexuality comes a bit before your own sporting achievements now?
TB: Yes. That’s my own fault I guess. I didn’t want it to define me and I didn’t want it to be the only thing that got me on television. I felt even more pressure to actually achieve and show that I wasn’t just trying to look for a claim to fame. That was quite the opposite of what I was claiming and the whole point of it. It was to hopefully allow me to be the best athlete I could be and show the world that I could be really successful and also live openly. I think in some way, of course, now it always is going to be mentioned throughout my career. Now I can be classed as an Olympian as well, most for British record holder and hopefully some international medals to come as well. There’s lots to me than just that.
JH: Has coming out so publicly allowed you to focus more on your training because there’s less of a distraction and you can live more honestly.
TB: I think it’s the latter. I live without any worry whatsoever. On social media, I absolutely adore social media. Sometimes, everybody, especially in an Olympic year wants to know everything about you. I always had that worry that it would have to be something I would have to deal with. I never saw it as it was going to be a negative thing. As we’ve seen it is a story still and I didn’t want to deal with that right now. That’s why we did it in September, not seven weeks before the Olympic games.
It definitely allowed me to be proud about me and my partner and to speak freely and not to have anything on social media or hugging him after a race or anything like that.
JH: Oh, that would be nice. Are you going to do that? Is he going to be in Rio with you?
TB: He is going to be travelling out to Rio. If Tiffany’s in Heathrow has the ring that I want, I might even make it official when I’m out there.
JH: Make him an honest man?
JH: How did coming out with your family go? Have they always kind of known? Did they receive it well?
TB: Part of me hoped that they knew. You know my parents are very old-school and so I always knew it was going to be something that we’d have to deal with together. My family always supported me even if they disagreed with some of my life choices over the years. They’ve always supported me and backed me. I knew no matter how difficult or easy the coming out to my family would be, eventually they would always have my back and understand and support me, that’s exactly where we are today. I was 21 when I decided to tell them. I spoke to my dad and he was very understanding. I live in Leeds and they live in Kent.
I’m sure they took some time, a few weeks probably to process it. I don’t know how he privately dealt with it but to me, he never batted an eyelid and was just, “okay. That’s fine. Have you found somebody who you love and care for?” That was the main reason for doing it because I had found that kind of person.
My mum took a little bit longer but she never tried to fight it or tell me that I need to change in any way whatsoever. She just took a bit longer to process it.
JH: Did you do it over the phone then?
TB: I did, yes. I did because I didn’t think I would have the guts to do it to their face.
JH: Oh gosh. I thought it’d be more nerve-wracking doing it over the phone. Did you dial the number many times and then hang up?
TB: No. I just kind of got to that point where I was like, “Right. It needs to happen and so let’s not beat around the bush anymore.”
JH: Were you with your partner at the time?
TB: I wanted to bring him home for Christmas and things like that. I think actually for my Mum it gave her some time and gave her some space to just process it and try and understand it all. Actually me being a bit of a wimp helped the situation I think and meant now we’re all a kind of a happy family. He’s going out with them to Rio as one family which is really lovely.
JH: Okay. Where did you meet him? Is there a cute story behind it? Please tell me there is.
TB: I met him in York, so a very romantic city. He’s from Liverpool. He was the best man on a stag do.
Me and a couple of my friends, we were just out for a very quiet, sociable drink sort of think and we weren’t planning on having a night out or anything along the lines of getting with anyone, that’s for sure. My female friend decided to hit on him. She quite liked the look of him. She didn’t notice or she just chose to ignore the big love-heart straw he had in his drink and his quite flamboyant nature. Me and my other friend were sat there trying not to laugh as we quite clearly could see that he perhaps didn’t bat for that team (laughs).
She got very offended when he said, “You’re not my type.”
He was trying to be polite. She couldn’t understand why and it was at that point that I walked up to my friend and said, “I think he’s probably more my type, than your type.” We got talking from there. The rest is history.
JH: Aw. One woman’s loss is another man’s gain. That’s the way it goes I guess. Do you live together?
TB: No, but we plan to. We’ve planned to live together for a while now, but not until the Olympic games are out of the way.
JH: Were you out at school?
TB: I was kind of half out at school, you know, a few of my friends knew. I spoke to them at quite a young age, probably about 14 or so. It got leaked. One of my friends wasn’t too tactful, I’m afraid. I decided to deal with it head on and not just deny it and admit it because I knew one day that I would just have to admit it again anyway. That certainly put me off speaking to my parents about it or anything like that because teenagers and kids, you know, they can be nasty, whatever it is. Had a bit of trouble at school and suffered quite a bit of bullying for a long period of time. I guess for about a year, it was just non-stop. It meant I spent a lot of time on my own and kind of hiding from people but I stand by it now. I don’t hold anything against anybody. Everybody’s looking for a weakness in somebody else at that age because they’ve got their own concerns about themselves. It certainly made me stronger and it made me a better person I think.
JH: Did you have athletic dreams when you were at school. Where did your athleticism come to you?
TB: For that reason really, because some people found out that I was gay at school. I hated, hated PE and always tried to get out of it. Never did any sport in school because it was a very easy time to be targeted by bullies and so that was something I avoided greatly. The good thing was my parents took me to a number of sports clubs outside of school because I liked doing sport, I liked being active, I had a lot of energy so I’m really glad they did that. I did some running and tried the race walking. My sister did it a little bit. I just kept doing it and I wasn’t any good at anything, the running or the race walking… Just purely doing it for fun and keeping fit and it was a different world from school. I could just be myself and nobody knew much about me, I just made some friends and almost felt like I had another life, an escape route really from school. I loved going training. I guess that enjoyment is why I did it for so long. Then it helps when you start winning.
JH: Just going back to begin Olympian and begin gay or LGBT. Do you think that there’s a pressure on gay people to remain in the closet? If there is, who is it by? Is it themselves? Is it managers, sponsors?
TB: I hope to God there isn’t any pressure. In today’s world, I don’t think any sponsors or anybody like that could get away with saying, “Look. If you’re going to come out, then we’re going to cut ties with you.” I don’t think anybody could get away with that nowadays.
People might not be as lucky as I am in this situation where my family knows and support me. I’ve got a loving partner who has been with me for a long, long time. They might be single, they might not have told their family and so on and so coming out in public wouldn’t be possible, or even just living openly, let alone announcing it, just wouldn’t be possible.
I’m sure there are some places in the world where if you were to come out, you may not be able to continue on.
JH: Is it odd to be in an arena where for instance, in the UK being LGBT is very accepted and we champion everybody in our Olympics that there will be other gay people from other countries where homosexuality is illegal or societally unacceptable?
TB: It’s a sad one because I’ve got so many friends from places that being LGBT is not accepted and I thought, “Oh. I’m really good friends with them but if I tell them, or when they find out, are they going to no longer be my friend?” Thankfully that hasn’t happened once which shows how every human being can be understanding and accepting, it’s just a very small handful that force these ideas upon people. I spoke, again, to some other athletes who I’m not specifically friends with, but I was at a competition and they were talking to me and I told them that I had a male partner and they were from a country again where it’s pretty much not accepted to be out. They said, “We don’t care. It doesn’t matter. In our country, it will never be accepted.” Personally, they just said, “I don’t care.” We carried on talking.
JH: Are there Olympians, people taking part, that you know of who can’t come out?
TB: It’s too big for there just to be a handful of gay athletes, you know. I believe there has to be. The numbers can’t lie like that. A few people outside the sport, have opened up to me which has been very touching and I’m honoured that I could help them in any way.
I believe there will be and as I said earlier it’s just about time and patience. I never expect anybody to do what I did because that’s a very in your face way to come out on television. I was happy to do that and put it out there but I just love to see people live openly. That’s kind of my main aim.
This interview was taken from Issue 21. Download now for Free or Subscribe to never miss another issue.