The Importance of Being Yourself | A Q&A with Keegan Hirst
Since coming out on a world stage and becoming the first active British professional rugby league player to come out as gay, Keegan has stepped into his role as a world-class rugby player, role model, and proud gay man.
His career has taken him from the playing field to speaking to people about his experience and why diversity and inclusion is crucial to sporting.
Keegan recently came into Speakers Corner to tell us about where it all started, the future of sports and the true importance of being yourself.
From your childhood in West Yorkshire to standing as a proud rugby player and role model, can you tell us a bit about your journey?
I was brought up with my brother and sister in Batley, a small town in West Yorkshire, by my mum. I started playing Rugby League by accident when I was 11 and kind of stumbled into becoming a professional RL player. In the meantime I met and married my now ex-wife and had 2 wonderful kids.
Throughout the first 27 years of my life I struggled with accepting my sexuality. Ranging from denial to being completely delusional. It eventually took it’s toll and I struggled a lot with depression and flirted with the idea of suicide.
After splitting with my wife in 2015, and after a turbulent few years, I began to come to terms with and accept myself for who I was.
With that came a change in attitude and outlook and my playing abilities skyrocketed. I went on to play for Wakefield Trinity in Super League and have up to date played over 300 professional games with over 120 being as an out and proud gay man.
As the first active British professional rugby league player to come out as gay, what was the catalyst for speaking out on a world stage and how did you feel on the pitch during that first game back?
I had already come out to friends and family. When the media heard about it I figured it best to make sure the story was right.
Originally I didn’t want to be so vocal about LGBT rights, but after all the messages I received after coming out, I felt a sense of duty to speak up for those who weren’t able to.
The reaction you've garnered seems to be largely positive. How have things changed since coming out and how has coming out helped you on and off the field?
My life has completely changed overnight. I went from being a straight, working class Rugby League player to being an out gay man mixing with big names talking about difficult subjects. I don’t even recognise the person I used to be.
As for playing, I’ve played consistently well at the highest level in the country. Coming out has propelled me forward not only personally but professionally too.
From Ian Roberts, Louisa Wall, Gareth Thomas or even Nigel Owens, you are on a long list of greats in rugby when it comes to LGBTQ+ visibility in sports. What do you think has been the impact of your story?
I think it’s had an impact on lot’s of different aspects of society. More than I ever anticipated. I’ve received messages from gay married men, men who play in a team but haven’t told team mates, men who stopped playing because they were gay, and men who just don't dare come out. I hope that they can see my story as an example that no matter who you are or what you do, you can be yourself and it doesn’t have to have a negative effect on your life.
You mention your work in sports, coaching and speaking to adults and children alike on the importance of diversity, teamwork and inclusion in sport? If there is one message that people could take away from your story, what would it be?
I’d like to think it’s that whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever you do and however you look, there’s a place where you belong. Sometimes we just have to go and find it.
Finally, what's next for you?
I’ve just signed for Halifax RLFC so I’m looking forward to 2 years there where I’ll be having my testimonial.
Away from Rugby I love having the opportunity to speak to people and share my experiences. That’s something I do as part of my coaching programme and the LFE educational services where I go into football academies and speak to them about the importance of being yourself in a high pressure, sporting environment.
For further information or to book Keegan Hirst, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email email@example.com.
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