Welcome to a series on Proudly dedicated to sharing the stories from a variety of influential LGBTQ+ content creators who come from all different backgrounds within the media. This series will enable us to showcase their achievements and experiences within the industry and give advice to inspire future content creators from the LGBTQ+ community.
Proudly wants to shine a light on the people who have made strides in a very competitive industry. Hopefully, this series is the start of something special for Proudly where we have been lucky enough to interview inspiring people such as Scott McGlynn, Sassify Zine, Dan Morrissey, Matt Horwood, Joe Wilmot and A Gay and A NonGay podcast hosts James Barr and Dan Hudson who have shared their incredible stories with us already.
Jon spoke with Proudly.blog about the representation of the LGBTQ+community in sport and his favorite stories that he has shared. Also Jon discussed the importance of employers who are trying to be more inclusive and has given key tips for the future generation of LGBTQ+ journalists and athletes. The interview Proudly conducted with Jon was over Facetime so this article will both be in a video and written format.
An introduction into Jon’s life
With over 20 years of experience within the industry since graduating from Liverpool John Moores University in 2001 studying journalism, Jon began working at a football news website that eventually became a part of Sky Sports. This was the beginning of an incredible career path for Jon that he is still apart of today.
Working as a senior editor at Sky Sports News for the last six years where daily tasks involve looking after all of their digital platforms editorially, processing content, and making sure the Sky Sports website and app are reflecting what they should be.
LGBTQ+ representation within football
Alongside Jon’s contribution to the editorial team at Sky Sports, he also looks after their relationship with Stonewall for their ‘Rainbow Laces‘ campaign that battles homophobia within football. This is a very important campaign within the sport due to the lack of male LGBTQ+ representation at a professional standard. With the majority of major football clubs having an LGBTQ+ affiliated football team and fan inclusion groups such as Charlton Invicta and Villa and Proud that represents them alongside independent LGBTQ+ football teams such as the London Titans and Stonewall FC, it is surprising to see a certain stigma that still surrounds football regarding homosexuality.
As of writing this article, there are no current LGBTQ+ footballers playing in all of the top five leagues across Europe despite there being over 2,900 active players. This is why we at Proudly wrote a story all about homophobia in football as it is an interesting topic that needs to be discussed and reviewed to see if there is any underlying reason behind it.
Alongside this, the incredible team at Football V Homophobia arranged the first-ever ‘Football Pride‘ this year which took place on the 25th July 2020 digitally due to the coronavirus outbreak. Although viewers couldn’t be there in person the importance remained and brought a lot of attention to the topic of homophobia within the men’s game. Proudly was lucky enough to have interviewed the team behind Football Pride and wrote a story about the historic event.
As an LGBTQ+ man himself Jon was a big supporter of this event and even posted a picture on his Twitter page of him wearing the events official merchandise.
Not only a strong supporter of LGBTQ+ awareness in Football but sport in general, Jon is the founder of Sports Media LGBT+.
Since founding in 2017, Sports Media LGBT+ is a network, advocacy and consultancy group that is a point of contact for LGBTQ+ people in sport to help access the media and share their experiences. This can be done by having their stories promoted through all the Sports Media LGBT+ social media channels and their own website and other media sources from their network connections with founder Jon at Sky Sports and other members from media backgrounds who are involved in the project.
Jon also sits on the steering committee representing Sky and Sports Media LGBT+ at Intermedia who are an umbrella company for LGBT+ media networks affiliated to media companies.
Today is the three year anniversary for the first draft of Sports Media LGBT+ and it has come a long way since this tweet that was posted by Jon Holmes on the 11th August 2017.
The reason behind starting Sports Media LGBT+ was to help promote people who are LGBT+ and passionate about sport either if they are athletes, coaches, administrators, or fans they can feel like Sports Media LGBT+ is a platform and a channel that they can advocate for them. Jon also believes anybody LGBT+ within sport can come to Sports Media LGBT+ and they can help raise their profile and attract new audiences themselves.
LGBTQ+ representation within the workplace
This is a question we ask all of our influencers to share their experiences based on their different backgrounds. With Jon’s being heavily involved in sport he stated that this topic has been heavily improved in the last few years but there is some work to be done.
“I am proud that my own employer (Sky Sports) has contributed to raising the profile and conversation of this particulary part of inclusion within sportJon Holmes telling Proudly he is proud of his workforce’s contribution to LGBT+ inclusion within sport
Jon spoke fondly of other big news companies and publishers for their LGBTQ+ representation too. He highlighted The Guardian and the BBC who have dedicated sections and journalists who cover important LGBTQ+ stories that reflect the community correctly.
Jon believes that LGBTQ+ people within these organisations are driving it themselves through their dedication and their commitment during their own time they have been able to get LGBTQ+ stories on the agenda and that editors and decision makers who are senior leaders in media are appreciating the importance of these stories.
One of the Journalists Jon mentioned was Jack Murley who hosts the ‘BBC LGBT Sport Podcast‘ on BBC who will be celebrating their two year anniversary next month. With over 119 consecutive weekly episodes, 120 different guests across 33 sports that include: Olympians, Paralympians, World Cup winners and more, it is clear to see LGBTQ+ topics are an important conversation that needs to be had and it receives a lot of attention.
Jon stated that these stories are well-read as the numbers suggest that despite people sometimes feel these topics are too niche and there isn’t enough wider audience, Jon actually finds that it isn’t just the LGBTQ+ community who are interested in these topics but people all across sport and society who they are reporting on. Proudly also spoke with Jack Murley to discuss why he began the LGBT+ Sports Podcast:
I grew up loving sports, but when I looked at the sports and news media, a lot of the representation about what it was like to be gay was negative. The reason I started the podcast was I felt we weren’t hearing from people like me – who loved sport, and were also part of the LGBTQ+ community. I thought those. stories must exist, and that they’d be interesting ones to tell. And not only that, they’re the kind of thing that would definitely have helped me to hear as a kid growing up as well”Jack Murley – host of LGBT+ Sports Podcast on BBC
Favourite LGBTQ+ story you have shared?
During his 20+ years of experience within the industry, Jon has shared some incredible stories and breakthroughs that have happened within the LGBTQ+ community. One of these was the story about professional football Referee Ryan Atkin who became the first man refereeing in England’s professional leagues to come out as gay. As a fourth official in the English Football league currently and now a referee in the National League, Ryan was the first person in men’s football who has an active on the pitch role who is openly gay and willing to share his experiences. This story attracted a lot of attention globally with media companies such as the BBC and CNN getting in touch with Ryan to share his story and rightly so. To be the first of something so important to so many people, Ryan will always be a trailblazer for the LGBTQ+ community within men’s football.
On a more personal note, a story that made a big impact on Jon was the one based on a referee Raymond Mashamba. Raymond came to England from Zimbabwe to referee for the CONIFA World Football Cup in June 2018. For readers wondering who CONIFA are, Jon explained the organization as a:
“(CONIFA) is a counter-culture version of Fifa in a sense it represents countries and territories and regions around the world who aren’t represented by FIFA and UEFA. Disputed territories and places like Northern Cyprus and Cascadia in the West Coast of America and all these diasporic regions, they are a really interesting organisation”Jon Holmes talking about who CONIFA are.
During the CONIFA World Football Cup tournament, a former friend was blackmailing Raymond over his sexuality in Bulawayo. This story about Raymond and his then-boyfriend was disclosed to members of their local community back in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Once this became common knowledge within the local community the story was then published on a national newspaper in Zimbabwe where they identified the referee as the subject of a “gay storm”.
Sadly this meant that Raymond couldn’t return home after the tournament due to fears of his safety. This is because in Zimbabwe it is illegal to be gay and can face up to 14 years imprisonment because of being gay.
Raymond then had to claim asylum within the UK and Jon connected him with a bigger LGBTQ+ football community with teams in London such as the London Titans and more. Thankfully when his claims came up from the asylum court, Raymond was accepted for the first time of asking and could claim asylum in the UK. For Jon, that story was very different within sport but had a big impact on him personally and was very happy for Raymond who fortunately got the result he needed.
Thomas Beattie is a former professional footballer who spent his youth career at English Championship side Hull City A.F.C. and most recently played for the Warriors FC in Singapore until injury sadly forced him to retire in 2015.
Since retiring Thomas came out as gay. Although Thomas did not blame the stigma surrounding homosexuality abuse and lack of representation within football for the reason he waited until retirement to come out. Addressing the reason for not coming out during his career was purely down to being too focused on the sport and being successful, athletes actually don’t have time to think about their personal lives.
This is a positive concept and likely scenario found within many different sports where people aren’t accepting themselves until they have retired. Thomas labeled football as a cloak and a distraction that enabled him to hide within the game and not have confronted that part of who he was.
Jon told Proudly his idea behind why players in the professional men’s football game do not come out as gay during their playing careers:
“Football as a career is an all-consuming profession and you need to dedicate yourself to it mentally and physically because it is a short career and you have to maximise your earning potential over a short space of time.”Jon Holmes opinion on why not many people come out as gay during their sporting career.
Believing that athletes actually switch off that part of themselves of sexual-orientation completely during their competing days. There is clear evidence stating that inside professional men’s team sports players can hide themselves and not have to access or refer to that part of yourself.
Sadly there isn’t an inclusive culture within football where it is made clear to athletes and people within the football club that they are welcome to come out and accepted to identify how they want in the men’s professional football world to a certain degree where they are confident enough to come out.
The more sports representatives who speak up about these issues and the more media who spread the importance of these messages make it more likely to achieve what we want to achieve. This is to see that barriers being broken where that player whether they are a young player or a player coming to the end of his playing days feels empowered enough to share their truth with their teammates, their coaches, their fanbases and the public as well.
Thomas Beattie is an incredible role-model for LGBTQ+ representation within men’s professional football and somebody who has made a breakthrough within the game by sharing his amazing heart-warming story.
Jon’s key advice to upcoming LGBTQ+ journalists and LGBTQ+ athletes
“My main advice would be to be kind to yourself depending on the what stage of the journey you are at.
If you are struggling to accept yourself or if you don’t feel as you would be welcomed if you were to do so, just be patient and go at your own pace but also pay good attention to the messages that are around and about you.
This is where you can build up your confidence to become the kind of person at the right time can share your story and can inspire somebody else who is going through something similar.
The most important thing you can do within the LGBTQ+ community is to become part of that domino effect where we are there where we can accept ourselves and we can be confident in saying that in a way that reflects positive on others.”Jon Holmes key advice to future LGBTQ+ journalists and athletes.
Proudly would like to thank Jon Holmes for taking time out to speak to us and share his incredible story.