On Rainbow Laces Day, Proudly.blog chats to Matt Morton, one of the only openly gay footballers in the country.
What is Rainbow Laces?
Rainbow laces is a campaign which began in 2013 by LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall that aims to tackle homophobia by raising awareness and support for LGBTQ+ players and fans promoting inclusion and equality within sport from grassroots to professional.
You can purchase rainbow laces for just £2.99 on Stonewall’s website. You will also have the option to make a donation and buy other products that support the campaign.
Introducing Matt Morton
Proudly are honoured to have spoken with British footballer Matt Morton about what it is like playing football as an openly gay man.
As well as discussing his own experience of coming out, Matt offers advice to young LGBTQ+ sportsmen and women who may be struggling with their sexuality and explains why he is campaigning for equal rights in the sport he loves.
Matt’s coming out story
When Matt Morton sat down with his parents one day in June 2019 to tell them he was gay, he was prepared for the very worst outcome.
The popular footballer at non-league Thetford Town had come out to his best friend a few weeks previously, and now he was facing what he knew would be a difficult and sensitive conversation.
“I thought I was going to leave that room without one parent, and potentially without both, but I knew I had to do it,” Matt, 33, tells Proudly.blog. “I knew I couldn’t really be happy while I was hiding it.“
“Both my parents are in their early seventies. My dad is a former football referee and from a working-class background; he was born in Wisbech in the north-east, and raised in Wisbech with his dad was in the British army.
“My mum was born and raised in Belfast; a very tough and direct woman, and of a strong Christian faith.”– Matt Morton discussing his family background
Matt had never expected to have this conversation. A tough-tackling and physical centre-back for Thetford Town, he was very much one of the lads and had been with girlfriends throughout his teens and twenties.
But he began questioning things when he met someone in early 2018. After accepting his sexuality, he first told his PA, who he then also classed as his best friend. Now it was time to tell his parents, and it didn’t go well.
“My dad went quiet; my mum was the opposite – even before I got the words out, she was shouting and screaming,
“She ran out of the room and up the stairs crying, and that was the last I spoke to her for three months.”– Matt Morton’s parents reaction to coming out
“I’ve always had a very close relationship with both my parents and I grew up having faith that they were great people. They were role models and I will always be grateful.
“But, in that moment, I felt great disappointment in them and that feeling left me very conflicted.”
Proudly.blog had contacted Matt to talk about attitudes to homosexuality in football – Wednesday, December 9 is Rainbow Laces Day – but, via a Zoom call, we end up spending most of our time chatting about that emotional day with his parents.
That moment will resonate with so many LGBTQ+ individuals; one that can lead to deeply personal and painful conversations. “I think there are three things that affect a person’s reaction to sexuality: generation, culture and religion,” Matt says. “I had to deal with all three issues with my parents.“
Tell someone, even if it’s just one person
“At the time, it hurt me a lot, and I think it knocked my faith in them. But I knew when I told them that they are fundamentally good people, it was just a question of giving them time. A few weeks after I told them my dad texted saying ‘can we talk?’.”
Indeed, that is Matt’s advice to anyone, young or old, struggling with their sexuality: talk.
“Tell someone, even if it’s just one person,” he says.
“You can get a lot of clarity and comfort from not being isolated with it. For me, it was a journey of one person, then another and another.
“Remember, it’s not you who is making a decision whether or not to have a relationship with your parents; ultimately it’s their reaction which decides that.
“You have to stop caring about what people think.”– Matt Morton on the impact talking to somebody about his sexuality was
It was with that determined attitude that Matt came out to his teammates at Thetford Town – to an overwhelmingly positive response. He then came out to a national audience via a Sky Sports interview on National Coming Out Day in October.
“I was acutely aware of the potential reaction,” Matt says.
“People have always called me certain names on the pitch to try to get under my skin and get a reaction.
Ironically, since I came out there has been nothing. Some players who would normally try to wind me up have been on Twitter saying nice things, and that makes me have more respect for them. You can see the person behind the footballer.”– Matt Morton discussing the positive reaction he received after coming out
Football’s homophobia problem
Despite Matt’s positive personal experience, he knows football still has a well-documented problem with homophobia. No professional male player has come out as gay since the former Norwich City star Justin Fashanu in 1990.
Fashanu took his own life in 1998 after years of being hounded over his sexuality.
The sport is undoubtedly making strides in its fight against homophobia, with LGBTQ+ representation increasing. The award-winning Rainbow Laces campaign returned last week and is now in its eighth year, enjoying support throughout the Premier League and Football League.
Casey Stoney, captain of the England women’s team, came out in 2014.
But Matt’s experience shows there is more work to do. Since he came out, he says he has received ‘hundreds’ of messages from men saying they gave up on a career in football through worry overreactions to their sexuality.
“They’ve quit football because they didn’t feel they could be accepted and be open about their sexuality,” he says. “Until we get to a point where this is not an issue, we have a lot more to do.”
Following his own coming out experience, Matt says he has never been happier. He lives with his partner in Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, and the couple are approaching their one-year anniversary of being together.
He says his secret is finding contentment in multiple parts of his life, whether that’s on the football pitch, with his partner or in business, where he is currently working on a lifestyle app called Amplify which launches on Boxing Day this year.
“You cannot give blanket advice to people who may be struggling with their sexuality,” he says.
“Take your time and think about what you want from life.
“And the most important thing – talk.”– Matt Morton’s advice for anybody struggling with coming out
We would like to thank Matt Morton for sharing his incredibly inspiring story for Rainbow Laces with one of our Proudly Contributors George Cooper.