Actually, Tom Daley Coming Out is a Big Deal
Today, Olympic medal winning diver Tom Daley posted a coming out video on YouTube. It's awkward, slightly rambling and imbued with that peculiar British apologeticness for having something to say. In other words, he sounds like a 19 year old. Although he didn't explicitly use the word bisexual, he is currently dating another male but of course “still likes girls” and, since I'm not keen right now to get into the idiosyncrasies of the LGBTWTFBBQ acronym soup, I'm happy to go with bi.
This revelation immediately became the most read story on the BBC News website and adorned the front pages of basically every other UK news site and earned at least a passing mention in many others worldwide. This, in turn, immediately led to the outcries of well meaning social liberals all across Twitter that “This shouldn't be news! It's 2013 for goodness sake!” In a perfect world, they'd be right, but this is far from a perfect world and it absolutely is a big deal when anyone in the public eye takes this step. We should encourage anyone brave enough to do so and encourage the media to report on it.
Through the enlightened worldview of those complaining about the coverage, people would live their lives, loving whomever they wished and with no-one batting an eye. The daily reality for hundreds of thousands of people, however, is that their life is lived in a permanent state of fear. Fear that they will have insults hurled at them in the street. Fear that they will be left beaten and bloody. Fear of going into school to suffer another day of taunts. It's been almost twenty years since this was my daily life in school and, although things have got better for queer teens, we're a long way from it being acceptable and even longer from it being unremarkable in wider society.
This is why public coming out of celebrities (and especially those in the hyper-masculinised world of sport) is so important. It helps normalise queer relationships in the public eye, even when it is reported as something noteworthy and unusual, by putting it in people's faces where it can't be ignored. Perhaps even more importantly, it sends a message to younger people, those coming to terms with their sexuality, that this is ok. It tells them they're normal, that what they feel is not wrong, or disgusting, or something that needs hidden away. They can see people who are respected in society who are just like them and maybe, just maybe, get the spark of confidence to move closer to being comfortable with themselves.
One day, eventually, it won't be newsworthy when someone famous is seeing someone of the same gender (at least, it won't be any more newsworthy than them seeing someone of the opposite gender), but that day isn't today. We have a long fight still ahead, but the light at the end grows ever brighter and is only hastened when someone under the scrutiny of the media is brave enough to feel able to stand up and say “This is me, I am not ashamed”.
So thank you, Tom.