Kelly Holmes comes out as gay: ‘I needed to do this now, for me’ | Kelly Holmes

Gay rights campaigners have hailed Dame Kelly Holmes’ decision to come out at the age of 52, prompting questions about how many older people are still afraid to be open about their sexuality after growing up in a more homophobic era.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist lifted a painful 34-year public silence on her sexuality on Sunday, saying she felt like she was going to “explode with excitement” when she finally came out after years of being felt depressed, anxious and even suicidal. , keeping her a secret from all but her family and close friends.

Holmes, who realized she was a lesbian when she kissed another female soldier in the army in 1988, told the Sunday Mirror: “It was illegal to be gay in the army. The risk, if you were caught, was to be arrested, court-martialed, deported, sometimes imprisoned. I wanted to be in the armed forces since I was 14 and desperately wanted to stay there, so I couldn’t let them know. But it was really hard because it consumed my life with fear.

She described how, after winning gold medals in the 800m and 1,500m at the Athens Olympics in 2004, she feared she would be knocked out.

“The reason I didn’t want it to come out was that I didn’t really know people in sports…who were gay,” she said. “The ban in the army had only been lifted for four years [before] and I had never asked anyone if there was any kind of retaliation if I said something. I was still absolutely petrified.

“I had to do it now, for me,” she told the Sunday Mirror. “It was my decision. I’m nervous to say it. I feel like I’m going to explode with excitement. Sometimes I cry with relief. By the time this comes out, I’m basically letting go of that fear.

Sign up for First Edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am BST

Office for National Statistics figures released last month showed far fewer people of Holmes’ generation were willing to identify as gay than young adults. In 2020, only 2% of 50-64 year olds said they were gay, lesbian or bisexual, compared to 4.5% among 25-34 year olds.

Holmes said when she first realized she was gay in 1988, Britain was gripped by the AIDS panic, which stigmatized gay people. Schools were banned from “promoting homosexuality” under the Section 28 rule which operated from 1988 to 2003 in England and Wales, and until 2000 in Scotland. Homosexuals in the army could be dismissed until 2000 and some were court-martialed.

“Kelly Holmes is just the tip of the iceberg,” said gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, adding that there were “several other big names in British sport who couldn’t come out”.

“They grew up in a time of often toxic homophobia and even though Britain is more liberal today, they were scarred by this lifelong experience,” he said.

Holmes said: “There were a lot of dark times when I wished I could shout that I was gay – but I couldn’t. I’ve been convinced all my life that if I admitted to being gay in the military , I would still be in trouble.

Holmes told the Sunday Mirror that when she was 23 her barracks were searched by the Royal Military Police and she believed it was to find out if any of the soldiers were lesbians.

In 2003, she cut herself with scissors before the World Athletics Championships in France. She recalled: “I was in a detention camp toilet and literally wanted to scream so loudly that I turned on the tap to stifle my tears. I didn’t want to be here anymore. »

“I really hope this is a wake-up call for anyone who engages in prejudice and exclusion today,” said Robbie de Santos, spokesperson for the Stonewall charity, who said that it was “wonderful that Dame Kelly Holmes felt able to share her truth with the world”.

“It’s not just about a culture war,” De Santos said. “It’s about the long-term impact on people.”

“We expect there will be many more people living under the shadow of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia for many decades; a lot of people feel like they would be judged by their friends and family,” he said. “It can be more difficult if you feel like you’ve been living a lie with people very close to you, and people fear sending a signal that they don’t trust those around them.”

Leave a Comment