“In over half the countries that competed in this year’s Commonwealth Games, being gay is illegal“: Tom Daley speaks to LGBTQ+ athletes and advocates around the world in new documentary.
35 out of the 54 Commonwealth countries still have anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in place.
The Commonwealth Games 2022 have just wrapped up but sportsman and queer icon Tom Daley OBE is only just getting started with some serious activism.
While Daley wasn’t competing in the 2022 games in Birmingham, he did use the opportunity to take a look into some of the Commonwealth country’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws, during powerful new documentary ‘Tom Daley: Illegal To Be Me’.
I’ve just watched it. It was wonderful. I think @TomDaley1994 is doubly beautiful – ie, beautiful on the outside (obviously) & beautiful on the inside, too. Check out his 2021 #Olympics speech: it was pure gold (again, in more ways than one). #LoveIsLovepic.twitter.com/5gwzpNvPwT
— Matt Bishop 🏳️🌈 (@TheBishF1) August 10, 2022
In December last year, Daley called for more inclusivity in sport while delivering Channel 4’s ‘alternative Christmas message’.
The Olympic gold medal winner spoke heavily about queer representation and the controversial decision to hold the World Cup 2022 in Qatar, where same-sex intercourse is punishable by flogging, stoning or up to seven years in prison.
“In 2022 the World Cup is being held in the second most dangerous country for queer people, Qatar. Why are we allowing places that aren’t safe for all fans and all players to host our most prestigious sporting events?”, Daley said at the time.
LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport is clearly something the diving champ feels incredibly passionate about, which is why it’s no great surprise that he turned his attention to the Commonwealth Games for a new documentary.
Although not competing himself, as one of the UK’s most influential and successful athletes, Daley appeared at he 2022 Games’ opening ceremony, delivering a powerful moment where he carried the Queen’s Baton into the stadium while flanked by LGBT+ athletes and activists, all holding Pride flags to represent the 35 Commonwealth countries where homosexuality is still criminalised.
— Mathew-Leigh (@dragonboyia) August 10, 2022
In his new BBC programme (which aired August 9 and, if you’re in the U.K., you can watch here), Tom travels the world investigating just what sort of damage the British Empire did to developing nations when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights.
Travelling to areas like Pakistan and Jamaica, Daley speaks with LGBTQ+ athletes impacted by homophobic laws, as well as LGBTQ+ people and activists from various countries.
It’s not exactly news that the British imposed both rule and morals on a multitude of nations that have eventually maintained their homophobic views, meanwhile the UK itself has modernised dramatically in comparison.
However, many on social media praised the gay sporting legend for lifting a lid to the severity of the situation in many parts of the world, with users on Twitter saying things like, “I knew things were bad but wow… I was aghast. Kudos to him and all the other participants. A great show.”
Indeed Daley, who came out in 2013 at the age of 19, was widely praised by social media users as the documentary was the top trending topic on Twitter immediately after it aired and for some time after.
He also received some troubling backlash.
Let’s look at some of the good stuff first.
Here are just a handful of tweets that show the tone from one perspective.
Brilliant, brave usage of his position by @TomDaley1994 to shame the homophobia and anti LGBT+ laws in our Commonwealth.
And, BTW, he’s right about Qatar’s sordid World Cup too: shouldn’t be happening.#IllegalToBeMe
— Dan Levene (@danlevene) August 9, 2022
This moment at the #CommonwealthGames Opening Ceremony was huge 🏳️🌈🏳️🌈 but having watched #IllegalToBeMe last night. It takes on so much more significance and made me cry all over again 😭 #werenotgoinganywhere pic.twitter.com/l4c8ruGtMv
— Rob 🌈 (@robinthesticks) August 10, 2022
One small step. But symbolic and significant.
— Mark Scales (@IndeedItsMark) August 9, 2022
— AndrewB72 he/him with added beard. (@andrew_b72) August 9, 2022
— Fiona Endersby 🇺🇦 (@FionaEndersby) August 9, 2022
What makes Tom Daley stand out is that he understands how important it is as a gay guy in sport to use his platform to raise awareness of the plight queer people face. He doesn’t shy away from the tough questions or the bigot blowback@TomDaley1994, you’re a legend👊🏳️🌈
— Jack Duncan 🏳️🌈 (@JackDunc1) August 9, 2022
Utmost respect for Tom Daley using his position to push for change and respect for LGBT rights #IllegalToBeMe
— Russell (@Rustybobs) August 9, 2022
Disappointingly, however unsurprisingly, there was also some backlash.
Some were quick to criticise the athletes broadcast ability (?), calling him “out of his depth” as a documentary maker.
Which doesn’t make a terrible amount of sense, since he isn’t exactly sat with his fingers crossed hoping to be the next Louis Theroux.
He is, however, a globally-recognised gay athlete who travels the world to compete professionally and therefore is, in fact, the PERFECT person to front a show about exactly that topic.
While others accused him of “virtue signalling”, being “woke”, and just about any other buzzword they could pick out of a hat because, seemingly, they were a bit pissed off that he said he ‘feels sick to be British’ after hearing about some of the imposed trauma many people endure as a direct result of homophobia.
Such as one female cricketer, who wished to remain anonymous, explaining that she is seen as “a mutant”. Or a closeted athlete in Nigeria who Tom speaks to on the phone anonymously, detailing the time a friend was lured to his death on a dating app.
New Zealand born Journalist Dan Wootton called the documentary “propaganda”, writing in a piece for his Daily Mail column:
“How tragically woke that Tom Daley “feels sick to be British” because of homophobia outside of Britain. His BBC anti-colonial propaganda piece was ill-informed – can’t he just stick to knitting?”
There was plenty of other backlash too – ranging from completely stupid to outright homophobic – seeming to largely come from either overtly nationalist/ “gender-critical” etc accounts or alt. Twitter accounts which some folk use specifically to troll around social issues, with no personal links or info attached (so they don’t lose their jobs as teachers or nurses or whatever the hell they do).
One Twitter user, while referencing the relatively small and localised (but noisy) backlash said:
“The reaction from some to Tom Daley‘s programme really proves that homophobia is still rife in this country.”
“Gays are only acceptable to this lot if we shut up and don’t mention how much bigotry there is out there.”
The reaction from some to Tom Daley’s programme really proves that homophobia is still rife in this country.
Gays are only acceptable to this lot if we shut up and don’t mention how much bigotry there is out there.
— Jack Duncan 🏳️🌈 (@JackDunc1) August 10, 2022
Frankly, we think the documentary was fu*king fantastic. We still have a lot of issues to tackle with regard full, proper LGBTQ+ liberation in the UK, but by many standards we are extremely privileged and blessed.
Tom – in his capacity as superbly well-decorated international athlete, a proud gay man and a queer parent – was the perfect person for the job, because he has exactly the right gravity in public perception to carry that message in a way that people will watch and listen.
Which is exactly what they did.
The documentary is available to stream on BBC iPlayer now.
— Prossy Kakooza (@Pkakooza) August 9, 2022