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“I’ve always been able to be myself within a sporting environment”

To mark Pride Month, English Institute of Sport and British Diving’s Performance Lifestyle Advisor Clare Stacey shares her experiences as a member of the LGTBQ+ community within aquatics.  

British Diving’s Performance Lifestyle Advisor Clare Stacey has told us how comfortable she has been within sporting environments throughout her career.

Clare, who has an extensive background working in sporting governing bodies took up her role with British Diving in 2019.

She is both a member of the LGTBQ+ community herself and has had the pleasure of working with a number of young athletes that are going through similar experiences she has been through in her own life.

It’s a position that Clare has always wanted to take up since hearing about it in her role with the English Institute of Sport.

She said: “I saw what the EIS and their Performance Lifestyle team did and it really took my interest.

“Working specifically with the athletes and looking after them as a person, not just as the athlete.

“From then I had my heart set on getting into that field and it did take me a good few years.

“I think I had to grow as a person to be able to be successful in applying for it.

“And when I saw the advert for British Diving for Performance Lifestyle, I had to apply.

“It was such an interesting time to get involved, coming off the back of the Rio Olympics and the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, it looked really exciting.”

Growing our athletes as individuals not just as divers

As a Performance Lifestyle Advisor Clare works closely with the athletes, looking after them both on and off the board and takes pride in helping them grow as an individual not just as a diver.

“With the age makeup with divers, it’s quite a young sport and I feel that I get on quite well with younger athletes and younger individuals.

“I think whether it’s because I don’t take myself too seriously and I kind of see myself as a big kid, it allows me to bond with them better.

“It is about trying to discover what is relevant for them at that moment, whether it be school, friendships, pets or even what they’re watching on Netflix.

“I think that kind of the approach works as you get to know them as an individual first and can form a good relationship with them.

“And what we really encourage athletes to do is to consider themselves as an individual not just as athletes.

“If that is through further education, personal development or working around discovering their identity.

“What we tend to find is when a better life and diving balance, having interest and hobbies outside of the pool, they actually enjoy their diving more.

“And when you enjoy things usually performance follows.”

Diving’s an open community

Speaking on her time within diving, Clare believes the diving world has always been an open space, with strong role models helping support the LGBTQ+ community.

“As long as I’ve been diving it has always been a very open community.

“Athletes will tell me if they’re not feeling great or if they’ve got certain challenges with being a part of the community.

“Luckily with diving we’ve got some really good role models in there, such as Tom Daley, who openly advocates and supports the LGBTQ+ community.

“I think with having such a high profile athlete promoting the community you get see the knock on effect that’s had.

“Tom in the past has been very open with some of his experiences and you do see more and more of the athletes now happy to talk on social media around their mental health and the importance of looking after themselves.”

Clare believes her own experiences within the LGTBQ+ community allows her to understand what some of her young athletes are going through and motivates her in her work today.

“My experience with the LGBTQ plus environment, has been nothing but supportive and encouraging.

“And I think actually when someone’s in a position and comfortable to come out, it’s a very supportive environment, but we need to be mindful not to make assumptions over people’s identities or sexuality.

“I for example, don’t necessarily identify as being gay.

“Yes I am gay, and yes I am married but I was once asked kind of to describe my identity and actually the person I was talking to was really surprised that I didn’t label myself as being gay.

“I suppose it’s really helped me when I work with athletes as just because someone identified or has traits or sees themselves as trans or gay or bisexual doesn’t necessary mean that’s how they identify.

“You’ve got to allow people the space to learn about themselves in an open environment.”

Sport is something that Clare has played in her spare time throughout her entire life and thinks that being involved in sport in general has helped her grow as a person.

“I play hockey and rugby and I think both of those sports are very open and especially in women’s sports I think sexuality is spoken about a lot more than in other sports and in men’s sports.

“I think it’s made it easy because I’ve never had to go into a sporting environment and felt like I’ve not been able to be myself.

“People have always been really welcoming and even speaking to athletes in diving they tend to know that sports can be inclusive.

“For example, I’ve recently got married and all the athletes and staff I work with know this and I’ve never felt any hostility or judgment from them either, just support and congratulations.”

Changing the stereotypes

Clare and her wife are now foster carers for a young boy and have had some challenges with discrimination through comments made to him by other children at his school.

“Witnessing the boy we’ve cared for over three years now and hearing him have some nasty comments said to him by that kids at school because they know he’s got same-sex carers.

“I’d say most of them did not necessarily realise they were homophobic in origins, but they’re all laughing at him about having same-sex couple carers.

“I don’t think the kids realise it’s homophobic, but actually them joking about it or saying nasty comments or like laughing at him because of it. It is still a form of discrimination and can make those going through challenges shy away from being so open.”

Despite the discrimination, she believes things are improving and that more education would be a huge step in changing the stereotypes of what is thought of as a ‘typical family’.

“Our child’s friends and some of their relationships do seem a lot more fluid and more open, which is actually great to see.

“There’s children now that don’t need to feel like they have to have a ‘coming out’, they are comfortable with their relationships with fewer expectations on what is perceived as normal and this is incredible.

“I think as the generations go on we’ll see more same sex couples have children and when they go to school so hopefully we can challenge the current norm and others can see a family is more about biological parents and more about love and support and hopefully this will be seen throughout the literacy as well.

“There are some children’s books now that don’t just talk about mummy and daddy and show a variety of families.

“There are some that talk about mums and mums, dad or dads or single parents, really reshaping that mould of what actually the typical family looks like.

“But I do think it unfortunately, at times it’s a generational thing.

“It’s going to take a while for everyone to be on the same page and be open but all those small things really help.”

‘You don’t have to fit in a box’

Speaking on her own struggles, Clare told us how some indirect discrimination has affected her throughout her life, especially when planning her wedding.

“My partner and I have had to go through certain forms for getting married and there were some forms we had to fill out that said ‘brides name, grooms name’.

“Even though people knew it was the same sex couple, they were like, ‘ohh, just cross it out and just put bride and bride’ and it’s a bit like, well, ‘actually I don’t want to just cross it out, I want to feel included’.

“It’s about getting the world ready, why should forms always have to have a male or female. It is not going to cost anything to simply change 1 or 2 words, but the feeling of being included and accepted is priceless”

Clare also told us about the nervousness she had in opening up to her friends and family, despite the fact she knew that they would still support her.

“There was nervousness about telling my friends and family.

“I don’t think it was a surprise to any of my friends but the nervousness was a bit of a weird one because I knew that they would all still love and support me.

“But for myself it was that I had to know before I told them.

“So it was more of a self-discovery and being comfortable within myself.

“I suppose there is a worry that people will judge you or see you differently.

“The rational side of my head was like ‘they will still love you, they’ll still support you and it’s going to be fine’.

“But I’ve had some very supportive friends and family, plus the sporting environments that I grew up in were also very supportive so that has helped a lot.”

After coming through some of her personal struggles, Clare had this message to send to the LGTBQ+ community.

“I hope anyone from the community takes their time to understand themselves and don’t feel like you have to put yourself in a box.

“Throughout life, you always feel like you need to fit in a box.

“Like for example, am I gay or my straight? Or am I bisexual?

“Even things like that, it doesn’t matter. Just learn who you are and be comfortable with yourself. To be true to yourself and make sure you’re happy.”