Name: Keegan Hirst
Keegan Hirst is a professional rugby star, who made history in 2015 as the first rugby league player to come out as gay.
He announced his retirement from the game in 2020, going on to carve-out a successful career helping gay men build incredible bodies and stronger mindsets through training. In 2022 he reversed his retirement decision, announcing plans to return to the game and bring some much-needed queer representation in the sport.
Keegan. Hi. Let’s get the important stuff out the way: what is the single best thing about being from Yorkshire and are you a gravy or curry sauce person when it comes to chips?
The best thing about being from Yorkshire, for me, is that it’s home. Rolling green fields, friendly people, lots of places to go walking. I love to go away and travel but I’m always happy to come home, you know? As for chips, gravy all day long!
In 2015, you became the first British professional Rugby League player to come out as gay. A lot has changed since then. What was it like? What were your biggest concerns at the time?
Before I came out, it was the scariest thing I’d even thought about doing in my life. As humans we always think of the worst-case scenario, and I was no exception.
I thought I was going to be kicked off the team, lose my job, my friends, my family. So, it was an emotional rollercoaster, but it was also the most liberating and amazing thing I’ve ever done as well. There’s always a sense of pride on the other side of challenge and I was really proud of myself for going through with it.
Did you experience any homophobia, either from the rugby world or from fans, as a result of coming out?
I can honestly say there was only one time that I heard anything while I was playing. It was for Wakefield against Castleford, and I was warming up and heard “Hirst, you big puff.”
I just turned to the crowd and winked and said “flirt.” It got a laugh, I’m sure he felt like a dick.
Other than that, I haven’t experienced much in person. Online I’ve had a bit of grief but it’s easy to be a keyboard warrior and troll someone on Twitter, so I don’t let it get to me.
How have things changed in the rugby world for LGBT+ people since 2015?
Sadly, I think they’ve gone backwards. In Rugby League there are currently no out players, and we have clubs like Catalans Dragons signing Israel Folau, who has been openly homophobic.
Clubs like Manly try to promote inclusivity by having a Pride jersey, and players boycott it. In Rugby Union we have the RFU rescinding laws on allowing trans people to play.
Altogether, rugby doesn’t seem to be the inclusive game it professes to be. That’s why I’m coming out of retirement!
What hasn’t changed? Or, perhaps more specifically, what still needs to improve?
Governing bodies and clubs need to do more than say what they think they’re supposed to and actually start leading by example. The players they sign, the sponsors they pick, what they promote – it all sends messages to people and unfortunately, they’ve been getting that very wrong.
Just to clarify. Representation is important because it shows people that you can be LGBT AND be successful in any career you want. Whether that’s sport or anything. You can live the life you want regardless of sexuality. Representation shows people what’s possible. Simple.
— Keegan Hirst (@KeeganHirst) February 1, 2021
Beyond just rugby, why is LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport so important?
I believe that everyone should be able to participate in sport, whether it’s sole sport or in a team.
Sport is good for your physical health, your mental health, communication skills, learning to win, to lose, to build connections and friendships and make people mentally tougher. EVERYONE should be able to experience that.
A lot of LGBT+ people have negative experiences with sport when they are younger, and it can be really difficult to see sport as anything other than negative, so LGBT representation across professional and amateur sport is huge.
Accessibility of sport is also huge, whether it’s playing or as a fan. It needs to be accessible, safe and, most of all, fun.
LGBT+ rugby teams have become a really big thing across the U.K. What are your thoughts?
I would love for us to live in a time and place where they weren’t so necessary. Only in the sense that, all sport should be welcoming, for everyone, regardless of your sexuality. For lots of reasons, we don’t seem to be there yet. So, if these teams facilitate more people getting to play and enjoy sport, I welcome them!
Which other LGBTQ+ people in the public eye do you look up to/ respect?
Ian Mckellen, Elton John, Antony Cotton, simply because they have all been in the public eye for years. They’ve always been visible, always championed LGBT+ rights and equality.
Some people might not like them for whatever reason, but nobody can say that they haven’t helped to normalise and mainstream having LGBTQ+ people on TV and radio.
In sport, Tom Daley has done the same. He’s been out, proud and visible, and is a successful athlete to boot. Nobody can argue with that. Those kinds of people make a difference.
You now also work helping people to build incredible bodies. How did that come about? Do you enjoy it?
I struggled with my weight for a lot of years, so I decided to educate myself and do a PT course while I was playing and then continued to educate myself. I realised it wasn’t all that complicated and I wanted to help educate other people and cut through all the noise that makes getting in great shape seem so complicated.
After changing my own body and mindset, then helping others to do it themselves, particularly when it comes to gay men who might have had poor experiences with gyms/sport but feel the pressure of having a perfect body, I realised this isn’t about the look. The abs, the muscles etc.
It’s about feeling amazing in your own skin. I help clients build an incredible body, WHATEVER that looks like to them – whether that’s being able to move pain-free or wear the clothes they want or whatever.
Being able to help people live life on their terms – and feel amazing doing – it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
What are your hopes for younger queer kids who are navigating growing up with a love of sport
I hope they never worry about picking one over the other. That they know they can be queer and play sport.
That they deserve to enjoy every aspect of their life – the queer part, the physical part, and everything in between. Never compromise who you are to please someone else, that’s a sure-fire way to be miserable.
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