Tom Daley investigates how it’s ‘illegal to be me’
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The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham gave thousands of athletes the chance to compete on a global stage, while also giving the countries a chance to come together.
While that’s something to celebrate, Olympic gold medallist and double world champion diver Tom Daley’s documentary Illegal to Be Me serves as a reminder of one of the things that still divides the Commonwealth – attitudes towards sexuality.
In over half of the 56 member states of the Commonwealth, it is illegal to be gay, and some of the competitors in the recent Games are living in fear in the very countries they represent.
To find out more, Tom is travelling from Pakistan, where homosexuality carries a maximum penalty of death by stoning, to Jamaica, where the punishment is 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labour, and speaking to some of the top sportspeople who are facing persecution. Many are only able to talk about their experiences under the protection of total anonymity, as they could become the targets of vigilante violence if their sexuality is exposed.
Tom also speaks to some of the people who are fighting for change, including Michael Gunning, the only openly gay athlete on Jamaica’s national team, India’s first openly gay athlete, Dutee Chand, and swimmers Theresa Goh and Amini Fonua, both vocal supporters of LGBT+ rights in Singapore and Tonga.
However, Tom wants to do more than just draw attention to the issue – he’s also hoping to make a change himself. He explains: “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. 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. So along with some of these inspirational people, we’re working on a campaign that we wanted to be more than just something you see in a documentary that you watch for an hour and then move on. We wanted it to be something that actually makes a difference.”
With that in mind, Tom collaborates with LGBT+ people across the Commonwealth to draw up a manifesto to present to the Commonwealth Games Federation. It includes action points that Tom and his fellow contributors hope could make major sporting competitions safe for everyone. It doesn’t stop there. After months of negotiations, Tom has found a way to make his campaign part of the opening ceremony. Cameras follow Tom as he walks into Alexander Stadium as a final Batonbearer in the prestigious Queen’s Baton Relay, accompanied by some of the athletes and advocates he met on his journey, in what he hopes will be a powerful statement against homophobia.
Tom says: “The Commonwealth Games Federation can be a shining example to other sporting organisations that sports really can be for everyone and with the pull power sports has, we can hopefully influence change to horrendous human rights laws that exist in so many countries around the world.”