It wasn’t something Jake Williamson set out to do, in fact even just a couple of years ago, being an advocate against homophobia in Sports was probably footballs fields away from where he thought he would be! But 24 year old Jake has inadvertently become an out and proud voice for the LGBTQI+ community in Sports, not just in his native UK, but around the world.
You could say he found himself through love, allowing him to break down internal barriers and to live his truth. Coming out publicly had some negative consequences, especially within the Football club he played with at the time. But Jake's message is loud and clear, it gets better! And what a brilliant voice he is for the LGBTQI+ community, not only in Sports but in all aspects of life.
Breaking down barriers is one thing, smashing them into pieces and living his best authentic life is beyond inspiring. It’s Green cards all round!
Jake now lives in the Midlands with his partner Paul and pursues a career as a personal trainer. Read his story below.
Can you tell us about your career as a football player? When did you decide to come out to your colleagues?
As with most young boys in the UK, football (soccer, is just a given. I’ve played since I can remember, having ups and downs along the way. From 16 I played semi pro football for 2 years, mostly on the bench as you do when you’re the youngest in the team but it gave me the exposure to men’s football. I then went to university with this mindset and managed to play in the first team which was a great experience however I knew that I was still hiding part of myself. For some reason I just couldn’t bring myself to say it or even talk about it to anyone. I didn’t realise how much this secret was affecting me. After finishing university I had the opportunity to fly out to Chicago and work in a gym whilst I aimed to pursue a football career. Sadly, Covid happened, putting a stop to this adventure.
This is the point in which my new journey began.
Having met my partner the day I was meant to fly to Chicago (and still in the closet) I spent the next 3 months in lockdown with the majority of it on FaceTime to Paul. Having a role model and someone who could show me that being gay in a sporting world was actually doable. I then was able to flick the switch in my own head. It was never about what other people thought of me, so I then was able to come out slowly, with many tears along the way. As it was lockdown, I was able to tell my football friends virtually which actually made life a lot easier as the next time I saw them I was already out for several months so it didn’t feel weird.
What kind of challenges did you face as a gay person in the sports world?
My biggest challenge was when I first moved to live with Paul and I joined a new team. Whilst playing for this team I was on a podcast with the BBC and Jack Murle, discussing me playing sport and being gay. After that the team who I had just joined completely cut me off and never spoke to me again. That had a huge impact on my new gay life. But I don’t like saying it too often as I don’t want it to be a reason why people avoid coming out in sport. As the majority of people have been amazing and the support is there.
How did you become an advocate for LGBTQI+ inclusion in sports?
So once this happened in football it almost inspired me to help others who are still going through what I did. The stored up pain and secrets that just don’t need to be there. Making the conversations more public so that people both straight and gay have the opportunity to ask me questions and I’ll answer them with complete honesty, removing any taboo from the questions. As I am one of many few athletes actively talking about being gay in sport I was able to make contact with stonewall and they wanted me to join their sports champion programme.
Through this we do talks at schools and clubs about how we make environments as inclusive as possible. I do regular videos on my social platforms mostly answering questions about lgbtq+ life in sport and just being a visual representation of a gay man in sport competing at a high level across a multitude of sports.
What kind of progress have you seen in recent years in terms of LGBTQI+ inclusion in sports?
I think just having a voice and a place to have conversations is huge. There has been a huge structural shift and a massive push not just from an LGBTQI+ perspective but all aspects. Having more people come out and also have roles in top places means that these environments will trickle down and make people feel safe.
It’s safe to say we’re a long way from the actual playing elements of the game at the top level and even grass roots in the majority of male sports in particular. Especially the current issues that the trans community is facing. But nothing happens overnight.
What advice would you give to other LGBTQI+ athletes who may be facing discrimination or rejection in their sports careers?
I know what it feels like firsthand. I had some problems two years ago where I was completely cut out but what I can say is that there will be people out there that will be supportive and real friends. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it and friends are really hard to make as you get older but sports clubs are typically a fantastic place and really welcoming. If you can’t find a safe space in a regular gym or sports club then there is an abundance of lgbtqi+ clubs and teams around and it might be fun to try out a new sport and be completely yourself and celebrated for that.
Time heals and you will be okay xxxx
What do you think needs to be done to create more inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ athletes in sports?
I think we’re going in the right direction. I think we had it so wrong structurally in many sports where toxic masculinity took over and being gay just wasn’t an option. Whereas now the current players mostly still feel this way however there are structural changes in place. There are equality, diversity and inclusion regimes in place at all clubs, pride campaigns, talks and workshops at most major clubs. It won’t be long before a player is able to come out. All of this is always mostly aimed at football but it also goes for other sports; cricket, rugby, tennis, track and field.
Have you faced any backlash or criticism for your advocacy work, and how do you respond to it?
I am pretty lucky that the majority of the work that I do is well received. However on the odd occasion you will get a message or a comment but not everyone agrees on things and those who have the hatred to message something nasty don’t deserve the time of day so luckily I’m able to ignore it.
What are your next challenges, personal and professional?
I have a few sporting events over the next few months just for fun. A few triathlons, an ultra marathon in July and then my main focus will be back on Hyrox 2023/24 season and making it into the elite 15.
Photography: Anthony Michael