The Olympic diver Tom Daley has condemned homophobia across Commonwealth nations ahead of the start of competition in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham on Friday.
As part of a new BBC documentary to be aired next month, the athlete visited some of the Commonwealth’s most homophobic countries to expose the danger and discrimination faced by the LGBT+ community.
“I’ve experienced homophobia all my life, competing in countries where it’s illegal to be me and where I don’t feel safe to leave the venue I’m competing in,” he said. “If I feel like that as a privileged man, I can’t imagine what day-to-day life is like for LGBT+ people around the Commonwealth.”
The film will culminate with Daley, who won gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, carrying the Queen’s baton into Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium for the opening ceremony on Thursday, accompanied by some of the athletes and advocates he met on his journey.
The documentary will show him speaking with a number of LGBT+ athletes including Michael Gunning, the only openly gay athlete on Jamaica’s national team, and Dutee Chand, India’s first openly gay athlete.
Out of 56 Commonwealth member states, 35 criminalise same-sex relations, making up half of the countries globally that outlaw homosexuality. Seven Commonwealth nations have a maximum penalty of life imprisonment under laws imposed by Britain in the 19th century when it was a colonial power.
“LGBT+ athletes must be safe and feel comfortable being their authentic selves without fear of persecution or death,” he said. “The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) has been willing to talk and willing to hear what we have to say, and it’s good to see they’ve started taking a stance towards more inclusion.”
Daley will not be at this year’s Commonwealth Games as he is taking a year off from competing after his gold medal win at the Tokyo Olympics last year to spend more time with his husband and son.
Peter Tatchell, director of human rights organisation the Peter Tatchell Foundation, said it would be impossible for a known LGBT+ athlete to be selected for the national teams of two-thirds of the competing Commonwealth nations.
“They would be jailed, not selected – no matter how good they were,” he said. “The Commonwealth is a homophobic institution. It is a bastion of anti-LGBT+ laws, discrimination and hate crime. LGBT+ issues have never been discussed, not even once, by Commonwealth leaders at any of their summits over the last three decades.”
Tatchell said LGBTQ+ people from across the Commonwealth would be protesting at the start of the Games, urging leaders to decriminalise same-sex relations and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Commonwealth countries.
The 2022 Games will also host the largest Pride House, a dedicated temporary space for LGBTQ+ athletes and visitors, of any major sporting event, and mini Pride Houses have been installed in each athletes’ village.
The Commonwealth Games Federation president, Dame Louise Martin, said: “We are proud to support Pride House and as ‘The Games for Everyone’ we believe that Birmingham 2022 will provide an inspiring and important opportunity to engage, champion and benefit many diverse communities, including the LGBTIQ+ sporting community.”