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Batting for the other team at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe

It’s been a big year for gay athletes.

Not just the tabloid headlines associated with high profile sports personalities coming out as gay or bisexual, but because of globally focused international events, like the Sochi Winter Olympics and this week’s Commonwealth Games, both drawing attention to the appalling human right records of many participating countries.

By now you know that out of the 54 commonwealth nations, only 13 of them don’t criminalize homosexuality. So if you’re asking why there are relatively few openly gay people competing, then ask no more. The simple answer is safety. Why would you come out in a global spotlight if back home you’ll get persecuted, regardless of the medal you’re wearing when you get off the plane?

It’s also why we’re crushing massively on John Barrowman lately.

barrowmanmainWe’re lucky in a way to live in such a liberal society.

We were all there for Tom Daley’s big splash.

Michael Sam’s groundbreaking statement made headlines across the world.

Ian Thorpe’s Parky interview is still causing debate.

Robbie Rogers, Rhyian Anderson-Morley, John Fennell, Gavin Studner, Alexandre Cohalan, Anthony Villarreal, Liam Huffman, Jason Collins, Brittney Griner, Conner Mertens, LeQuan Chapman, Holden Richards, Nick Jesse, Chandelr Whitney, Drew Davis, Scott Cooper, Mikey Drougas, Meleana Shim, Darren Young to name but a few all shared courageous moments as well known sporting personalities taking that giant public leap out of the closet.

For some, it will never be as simple as deciding to make THAT announcement.

A couple of weeks ago we learned of Thierry Essamba an internationally competitive runner in the 110-meter hurdles, who was suspended from the Cameroonian track squad because of rumours about his alleged homosexuality, ending his dream to compete in the 2014 Commonwealth Game. This is someone who is only thought of as gay by a few people, and his career has effectively ended.

I came out when I was relatively young. The only person that got upset was my brother, because I told him last.

Ian Thorpe’s announcement last week got me thinking about how lucky I was when I was 16.

It also got me thinking about how terrifying it would be come out as gay if your every passion in life was entrenched in a community synonymous with straight bravado, locker room humour and testosterone by the gallon.

And I’m not the only one.

Ben Cohen’s StandUp Foundation not only works to end bullying in schools, but in sports too.

We asked Ben for his thoughts on recent events:

ben-cohen-photo-8“Coming out can be very challenging, especially in the sporting environment. Unfortunately, at this time, those who do so are taking a risk. We at the StandUp Foundation want to help to create an environment where people don’t have to gather up all their strength and courage just to be who they are.

Those who come out are very brave and it would be great if we all could be supporting, understanding and kind.

Bullying, including homophobic bullying, causes deep scars and pain. Raising awareness of the long term negative effects of bullying educates and increases understanding, which can only be a good thing.”

And raising awareness is what we at LGBTicons are all about.

They say that art imitates life. Or is it the other way around?

Either way, a quick glimpse at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe website finds no less than 10 brand new shows all dealing with the issue of coming out – many looking at coming out in sport.

Odd Shaped Balls is a new one-man show by Richard D Sheridan exploring the perceived culture of homophobia in sports through the experiences of a rising star in professional rugby. Drawing on Welsh rugby hero’s Gareth Thomas’s story, the show looks at how the culture of male sports and pressure from fans and the press can intimidate sport stars to live a lie.

-2014AWAYFRO-AAZ-300Away From Home takes different inspiration, and is told from the point of view of Kyle, who is comfortable with his life as an escort until he is hired by a premiership footballer and finds himself falling in love.

Much further from fiction and the first of two verbatim pieces Sochi 2014 explores the homophobia, persecution and human rights issues surrounding this year’s Olympics.

Dubbed London’s first rapid response theatre production, the play uses actual testimony from a wide spectrum of key players in the Russian gay rights debate, depicting heart wrenching tales of rejection, horrendous fears of being outed and optimistic dreams of a tolerant Russia.

‘I always say if you can’t convince them, confuse them!’ X and Y is a new second verbatim play. It follows the journey of Natalie, a Glaswegian transgendered woman, from the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh to Glasgow 2014. Her story is compared to the experiences of other LGBT individuals in some of the other 41 Commonwealth countries where homosexuality is still illegal.

Internationally acclaimed and fearlessly inventive Belarus Free Theatre’s first degree research from Africa, Asia, Europe and America, in areas where to be different is often comparable to a criminal act, merry christmas, Ms Meadows draws on real life stories to create what promises to be an original and arresting piece of theatre.

Ans it’s not just in Edinburgh. This work will travel, and others are developing creative responses across the globe.

So no matter where you are, there’s plenty of stuff going on to encourage the debate.  We’ll visit some of our favourite US companies next week, but right now for us, it’s all about the biggest arts festival on the planet!


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