The LGBT community is in the spotlight daily with a variety of celebrity, influencers and athletes either ‘coming out’ or supporting the community. Many of today’s most well-known LGBT stars and celebrities have used social media as a way to promote their coming out and joining the wider social circle to support and encourage each other to be proud of who and what they are.
Paula Fagan, National Coordinator of the LGBT Helpline has commented about the way in which developments in digital communications have changed the experience of coming out.
“In the past, coming out tended to be a very personal experience, where you opened up about your sexuality to a small number of trusted family members or friends.”
“And while people are still careful about who they tell when they are first coming out, once they feel more comfortable about their sexuality, more and more people are choosing social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as a way of telling other family members, friends and their wider social circles.”
At Champions Digital, we are proud to support the LGBT community and how their movement has created a significant impact in the digital world.
In support of raising awareness of LBGT diversity and the amazing challenges many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender celebrities have had to overcome, our Champions After Dinner Speakers department is welcoming guests to their LGBT Diversity & Inclusion Showcase.
Being held on May the 10th, at Searcys, the Gherkin, London the event aims to raise awareness of the LGBT diversity and inclusion and educate others to have a better understanding of the LGBT community.
The networking breakfast will feature talks from individuals from the celebrity and LGBT world including trans woman Kellie Maloney, musician Justin Osmond, and Olympic swimmer, come presenter and motivational speaker, Mark Foster.
We managed to spend five minutes with Mark to ask him some questions about his personal experience of coming out, the LGBT community and the impact social media has had on this trending topic.
How do you think the world of sport is changing to support the LGBTQ community?
"I think sport is a reflection of the wider society and the fact that you now have openly gay sportsmen and women is a testament to that. There are trailblazers like Martina and Billie Jean of course, and our very own Gareth Thomas, Tom Daley and Helen and Kate Richardson Walsh, to name but a few and it’s great to see how accepted and celebrated they are for their talent first and being gay second. I think all the sports associations are embracing diversity in a really positive way. They are all waking up."
Do you think now there is more awareness around the LGBTQ community, more sportsmen and women will be more open about their sexuality?
"Yes and its already happening. The more people that come out the more accepted it is, so it just builds a momentum.
There are still barriers of course and there are still no out gay footballers in the Premier League which still shows that it is still hard for some sports to break through the barrier, but it will come."
What was it that stopped you from ‘opening up’ about your sexuality for so long?
"Well, it’s a complicated process. I was out from an early age to my friends and family and I just kept my personal and professional life separate. But I have to admit that as my profile grew outside of the sporting world, I realised I was having to work hard to keep my two worlds separate and I was in this halfway house."
"There were times when I could have come out, during my Strictly Come Dancing era for instance, but I was going through a difficult time in my relationship and I didn’t want media attention on that part of my life which at the time was very painful. And to be honest I also thought coming out might damage my commercial interests and as everything was going well at that time I didn’t want to damage that. Although with hindsight I wish I had."
What advice would you give to a fellow sportsperson that wants to come out but feels like their profession is holding them back from doing so?
"Well, you have to be happy and content with yourself first and foremost and be at ease with who you are. Once you’ve cracked that and your family and friends accept it, then you have a solid platform to work from."
"Secondly, find someone who has been through it and talk to them and test out what your fears and concerns are. Often these fears are imaginary so just test them out."
Do you think social media has had a positive impact on the LGBTQ community being accepted in society?
"Well yes and no. Yes in that it provides an online community and you can feel connected to a lot of people and find your online community and that’s important when you might be feeling alone and isolated. And that is so important not to feel alone."
"The no is that it can also attract a lot of negative attention and you hear all sorts of horrendous stories of cyberbullying- so it can be a double-edged sword."
Have your social media interactions/posts changed since coming out?
"Not really, except that I did receive a lot of supportive messages at the time from lots of people through twitter which was great."
Should social media be doing more to help the LGBT community?
"Well, all the tech companies could be doing more about the trolls and the cyberbullying which can affect young people in particular. It’s all about educating young people about the pros and cons of social media at an early age so they can learn how to protect themselves from abuse and know where to go for help and support.
If these companies made a clear stand about that then it would send out a strong message about what is acceptable and what is not."
Why did you choose to get involved with the upcoming LGBT Diversity & Inclusion Showcase in London?
"Since coming out, I became very aware that being publicly out is not just about me. I was talking to a friend about the role that sport plays in transcending politics and cultural barriers."
"I imagined a young LGBTQ person in a country where being gay is outlawed or a criminal offence. I imagined them watching the Olympics or the Commonwealth games and seeing competitors from LGBTQ community or even in the commentary box, who were openly out. I thought about how that would give them such a sense of positive identification and hope."
"I feel so lucky to have been born and live in a country where I am allowed to be who I am without fear of recrimination. Being in this privileged position I just felt it was important to support the work of the LGBTQ community and this Showcase provides me with an ideal opportunity to do just that."
If you would like to hear more from Mark Foster or any of our other inspirational LGBTQ speakers, contact our team at Champions After Dinner Speakers to see how you can book first-class speakers.