The Bath event was for a biography with Gareth Thomas, who is one of the UK’s most famous gay men. Obviously he’s not in the same league as Elton John and Ian McKellen, but for reasons that should become obvious he has a huge impact.
Gareth’s story is pretty much the same as any other LGBT person’s. It involves being lonely and desperate as a kid, being afraid to tell your friends and family the truth, and being afraid of what will happen if they find out. It involves suicide attempts. And eventually there is a coming out tale. What make’s Gareth’s story unique is that he had been captain of the Welsh national rugby team, and was still playing professionally when he came out to the public.
Well so what? Probably only my Kiwi friends an understand what this meant in Wales. For the rest of you, imagine if it has been Brett Farve (USA), Wayne Gretsky (Canada) or Adam Gilchrist (Australia). Thomas isn’t an actor or a pop star — the sort of career that gay men are supposed to have. He’s not an ice dancer, or even into something fairly non-contact like baseball. Yes, he was a top sportsman, but he was also an acknowledged leader, a national icon, and a player in a sport that is well known for the physical contact and bravery required of its players.
I could see the effect of that at work last night. We often talk about how out LGBT folks should stand up and be counted so as to be an example to others. I try to do that myself, but I’m not convinced that it makes much difference to the world. I rather suspect that a lot of people think it is just more shameless self-promotion on my part. It is also true that I’m too old, too ugly and too weird (science fiction, ewwww!) to be of any use in the mainstream media. For Gareth Thomas it is a very different matter. There wasn’t a huge crowd (though this was apparently his second event in Bath that day), but afterwards just about everyone who came to get his book signed wanted to talk to him about how much he had meant to them. I imagine that he gets that everywhere he goes. That’s amazing.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading the book. Also, having heard Gareth tell his story, I am even more proud of those teammate such as Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams who stood by him so loyally through a very difficult time. Welsh rugby: it is awesome.