Gareth Thomas Comes Out
The following article with a video interview can be found on Wales Online.
Gareth Thomas’ decision to talk publicly about his homosexuality made him the first openly gay professional rugby player. As the dust finally settled on the revelation that sent shockwaves through the sporting world, the former Wales captain told Delme Parfitt why he felt the time was now right to come out and how those closest to him had reacted to the news.
Gareth Thomas had the look of a man finally at peace with himself as he relaxed at his cottage in the Vale Of Glamorgan village of St Brides Major yesterday.
His Cardiff Blues side may have lost their Heineken Cup clash in Toulouse the day before, but for the man universally known as Alfie, the day, make that the entire weekend, had been about so much more.
His decision to go public about his sexuality sat at the top of so many news agendas, the rarity of a professional sportsman doing so becoming a talking point across the entire globe.
But, as he prepared to join his Blues team mates for a lunchtime Christmas get-together, Thomas told me he had absolutely no regrets about his decision to come out.
Not only had the reaction of the public in the ensuing 24 hours heartened him, but the only man to win 100 caps for Wales insisted he had timed the announcement right and that he is looking forward to the time he has left in the game and his longer term future with renewed zest.
“Hindsight is an amazing thing and if we all had it sooner we would probably live our lives differently,” said Thomas.
“But the timing of this was right for me.
“The people around me were the ones I trusted to do it in the right way. And the team I play for is an environment I am totally comfortable in.
“I would have been comfortable going back to face my Blues team- mates whether the reaction had been positive or negative, and so the whole timing issue was right.
“There is a part of me that says it would have been good to do it four or five years ago.
“Would the reaction have been the same then? I don’t know.
“What I do know is that the reaction now is positive, and the message I am giving out is that if there is an 18-year-old kid out there who wants to do it and play rugby at the same time then they can do it. I have proven it can be done. The world is a better place now for me and hopefully I can help make it a better place for somebody else. I feel it is a weight lifted off me, I really do.
“My concern was about people’s reactions. As a well-known sportsman I knew after coming out with this that my life was going to become the subject of a lot of public opinion and that was a worry.
“Now I realise that people regard you on the basis of your achievements, not on what you do when you close the door.”
Many of Thomas’ team-mates in the Wales set-up as well as at the Blues have known for some time that their team mate was gay.
The 35-year-old made sure that his present colleagues were informed once and for all before any newspaper did.
Thomas says that he is now the subject of the kind of light-hearted teasing that is an accepted part of the banter among team-mates in a rugby environment.
And he insisted that there is not a shred of homophobia in the dressing room, only playful banter, and that he is grateful nobody ever need feel they have to watch what they say in his presence from now on.
He explained: “The players were the first to find out and I made sure of that because being my team-mates they had the right to know.
“Their reaction was great, they backed me completely, saying, ‘the way you are as a person is what we love about you and that won’t change’.
“And that is why I love being with the Blues.
“I’m just glad that the subject is no longer a taboo around the squad.
“For example when we were coming back from Toulouse on Saturday we had a load of cans of beer on the bus.
“Xavier Rush was trying to get us all to have a drink and some of us didn’t really fancy one.
“Then he said ‘come on, you bunch of faggots have a drink!’
“Then quickly he said, ‘Oh, sorry Alf!’
“We all just had such a laugh about it. All of a sudden it’s not a subject people think has to be avoided. It’s all out in the open and something we can have some fun with.
“That’s simply the environment of rugby, you can take a subject like this and have a laugh about it knowing it’s all meant in a harmless way.
“In fact, I said to Nugget (Martyn Williams) earlier in the day that if he was asked about my story by the Press after the game he had to make a joke about the pink jerseys.
“’You’ve got to make it, butt,’” I told him.
“He said, ‘I can’t say that can I?’ he smiled.
“I said: ‘You’ve got to.’
“It just shows how great the environment is in the squad now.
“And as far as Joe Bloggs on the street is concerned, everything has been amazing.
“It just proves the point I want to make to others that this is the day and age where doing something like this is possible, it is accepted.”
Thomas dismissed rumours that he once made a big announcement about being gay to the whole Wales squad.
Instead, after telling then assistant coach Scott Johnson who brought Martyn Williams and Stephen Jones into the confidence, he says he believes the news filtered discreetly among the squad.
“I didn’t select Nugget and Stephen Jones, Johnno did,” said Thomas. “I think Nugget and Stephen filtered the news around because all of a sudden I felt the support of the squad intensify.
“It was bull that I made a big announcement to the Wales squad that was a typical Chinese whisper going around Wales at the time.”
While Thomas has been boosted by overwhelming support and admiration for his courage among the public, he believes he will, in time, still have to face up to the bigots.
However, he is determined not to react to any malicious goading.
And the fact he put out his message in conjunction with the NSPCC’s Childline charity makes that doubly important to him.
“The difficult thing is that you can have a million good responses and one bad, but for some reason that one bad one always sticks in your mind,” he mused.
“And that bad one is the one that is listened to most by other people.
“Having played rugby and been criticised and praised down the years, I know what that is like to a large extent and it is part and parcel of what I do.
“If I’m honest I don’t expect to have praise right across the board over this. I expect there to be some negative comments.
“But the only message I am willing to send out is a positive one, I will not react negatively or send out negative messages.
“If I get bad comments I will have to deal with them myself and that is part of the deal in all this.
“I did not go into this blindly or naively, I know full well what may come my way in certain situations but I’m prepared for that. As long as the message I myself give is positive, that’s all I care about.
“People can jeer me from the stands if they choose to, but all I care about is that the people who love me, my friends and family, are the ones who count.
“And yes, my family are all 100% supportive of me.”
That’s not to say Thomas’ family have not had their own challenges to surmount in all this.
He admitted that coming to terms with his sexuality wasn’t something that happened overnight for his mum and dad, Yvonne and Barry, and his brothers Dicky and Stephen.
“It has been a rocky road for us all getting there,” said Thomas.
“At the end of the day my family all have lives to lead as well, they have to go to work every day just like anyone else.
“My father has to go to work in an environment where he is surrounded by blokes in the Post Office. My mother and brothers have to deal with it in their lives too.
“Of course they have always accepted me whatever the case, but there was a process involved in them accepting that they have to deal with this too, with the negative comments should they arise.
“Yet we have all got through that process together because we are a tight family.
“Their attitude is that the negative comments will come and go, but the positives ones will stay with them.”
The Childline link-up is truly important to Thomas though.
He says that had he known more of its existence when he was battling to come to terms with being gay in his late teens, it could have been a vital source of support.
He has confessed to having suicidal feelings at his lowest ebb, telling of how he would contemplate his situation on walks to the edge of the cliffs near Southerndown beach, not far from his home.
Thomas now wants others now in that position to know that they do not have to feel alone or ashamed of what they really are.
He explained: “With this story coming out I wanted to involve the NSPCC, which I think is an amazing charity.
“A huge number of callers to Childline are kids and the majority of young boys who ring in want to talk about their sexuality.
“I would have been afraid to pick up the phone to talk about it when I was their age.
“And when I say kid I mean late teens, the time of your life when you don’t know what fate has in store for you or where things are going to lead.
“Maybe it wouldn’t have changed the way I led my life, but to have someone to talk to who will understand and not judge you, can, I think, be the difference between living and dying.
“That’s how big it is.
“If I had realised Childline was there 20 years ago it would have helped me.
“I understand why youngsters are afraid because I was afraid myself.
“So in doing all this it is a brilliant and worthwhile thing to be a part of.
“The whole point of this message was that it is bigger than me and it is bigger than rugby.
“In fact it is bigger than sport in general.”
So what now in the story of Gareth Thomas.
Well, after a few more days of putting his message across to the media, all he wants is to get back down to the business of finishing his playing career with the Blues and then exploring further opportunities to stay in a game he says is “in my blood”.
He continued: “As far as my outlook on the rest of my career is concerned, this announcement changes nothing.
“Every day I want to put my boots on, I want to train and I want to enjoy my rugby.
“I want to stay involved in rugby, I was born to do this.
“I want to continue to have an influence on the game because it is in my blood.
“I would love to go further in the game and get into coaching.
“But I will take everything step by step.
“The big thing for me now is focusing on being part of the Blues and having a big second half of the season.
“We have great players and there are a lot of things that we should be achieving and I want to be a part of that.
“We will all pull together and do our best to ensure this season is successful for us.
“For me to do anything different would take away from the message.
“I want to carry on playing as hard as I can for myself, for the team and for the fans that go and watch. That is what has to happen.
“To me this is been dealt with now.
“There is nothing more, there’s nothing much else to say.”