Tom Daley will front a new BBC documentary next month shining a spotlight on the widespread homophobia still present across Commonwealth countries.
It is still illegal to be gay in over half of the 56 member states that makes up the Commonwealth, with many still enforcing colonial era laws introduced by the British Empire. Punishments include whipping, life imprisonment and even the death sentence.
As athletes prepare to compete in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the Olympic gold medallist has travelled to some of the Commonwealth’s most homophobic countries to speak with sportspeople and activists about how sport could use its influence to help protect LGBTQ+ citizens.
Tom Daley: Illegal to Be Me sees the athlete take a very public stance against homophobia across the Commonwealth, as well as advocating for real change to better the life of LGBTQ+ people. It results in Tom submitting a manifesto of action points to the Commonwealth Games Federation – which includes contributions from LGBTQ+ people across the Commonwealth – in an effort to instigate long-lasting positive change.
For the documentary, Tom visits Pakistan, where homosexuality carries the maximum penalty of death by stoning, as well as Jamaica where the punishment is 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labour.
Athletes to feature in the film include 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 who are both vocal supporters of LGBTQ+ rights in Singapore and Tonga.
Tom will also speak with prominent activists including Bisi Alimi from Nigeria and Carla Moore from Jamaica. They both speak more on the colonial legacy that introduced homophobic laws into the Commonwealth, as well as the influence of slavery on attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people.
“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,” says Tom Daley.
“If I feel like that as a privileged man, I can’t imagine what day-to-day life is like for LGBTQ+ 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.
“LGBTQ+ athletes must be safe and feel comfortable being their authentic selves without fear of persecution or death. The 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.
“Along with incredible LGBTQ+ people around the Commonwealth, we will make a difference. 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.”
Michael Jochnowitz, BBC Commissioning Editor, adds: “It’s horrifying that whilst athletes proudly represent their country on the global stage they face persecution – or worse – back home, simply for being gay.
“Some of these fearless athletes tell us their stories thanks to Tom and his courageous efforts to tackle the issue head-on, and whose manifesto for change leads to an extraordinary and historic world first.”
Tom Daley: Illegal to Be Me will air on BBC One at 9pm on 9 August. It will also be available stream on BBC iPlayer.