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Imagine not being able to do something you love because of who you are

09 Jun 2021

Former Ireland international hockey player and Just a Ball Game patron, Nikki Symmons, writes on how to be a better LGBT+ ally in sport and in the workplace

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Growing up, sport was everything to me. It rarely crossed my mind that I would not be able to play because someone decided I was not allowed to due to my gender or sexuality.

Being female and often not having access to the same facilities, budget, media or even sponsors as male athletes is one thing - but not being allowed to play because of who I am sounds ludicrous, right?

Wrong. It’s happening every single day for so many of our community, and I am choosing to stand up for each and every person who is being discriminated against for being their true selves.

The thing is, being your true self is something scary for a lot of people because it means facing fears. Fear of the unknown, the ‘Off Broadway’, the ‘different’, the ‘unique’.

Fear drives so many things that are wrong in the world. Discrimination against the LGBTQIA community is one of them.

There is a Japanese proverb that states "Fear is only as deep as the mind allows." What this means is that you are the gatekeeper to your inner world. You decide what occupies your mind. You choose where you put your awareness.

I have heard people say “Oh, she is actually lovely and beautiful” after they learned I was gay. What did you think I was going to be - a monster? I heard some parents did not want their kids to play for my club because there were too many - ahem - ‘lesbians’.

They perhaps that their child would turn gay if they hung out with us. Us - only one of THE best hockey clubs in Ireland, with some of the most outstanding players to have graced a hockey field.

Sport is in many peoples mind a vehicle for social change. Let’s drive it forwards.

Nikki Symmons, Just a Ball Game patron

At the time I brushed it off, as I have with other comments, but looking back I realise how damaging and hurtful it was. These parents were teaching their children to discriminate against fellow human beings, fellow hockey players - who would have helped them to be the best players they could be.

Fear drives people to do things that hurt others, even if they don’t mean it. They are conditioned to push back on the unknown, the different - and end up cultivating hate. We can’t change everyone, but we can, by speaking up, educate and open the minds of those around us, influence many to be better.

Many people in workplaces are not even aware of the issues that LGBTQIA+ people face every day.

Some tend to think ‘It never happened to me’; ‘We don’t have racist or homophobic people in our office’; ‘it’s safe for LGBTQIA people here so why do we need support groups?’.

We need support groups, and we need allies, because we have a responsibility to stand up to hate. Not just when we see it, but before it even happens. Doing this gives rise to continuous conversations - which can often be difficult but are extremely important if we want to change hearts and minds in society.

I said that “not being allowed to play because of who I am sounds ludicrous” – and it was not only LGBTQIA people who are not always able to be their true selves when they are competing athletes. I’m referring too to the latest developments for gender variant and transgender athletes. For me, everyone has the right to play their chosen sport.

We can’t change everyone, but we can, by speaking up, educate and open the minds of those around us.

Nikki Symmons, Just a Ball Game patron

It fills me with great sadness to know that there are so many people suffering following all of the government policies being put into legislation in many countries, regions and even in schools – during a pandemic, might I add.

Sport is in many peoples mind a vehicle for social change. Let’s drive it forwards.

If you are reading this now, it is a great step forward - but what can you do next to really make an impact?

Start by thinking how you might feel if you were not allowed to do something you love because of who you are.

Listen and learn.

Understand and own your privilege.

Speak up and be a better ally.

Support LGBTQIA NGOs and self-organised groups to help them do the extremely important, on-the-ground work.

Nikki Symmons
Former Ireland international hockey player

Nikki Symmons is a former Ireland international hockey player. Between 2001 and 2013 she made 208 appearances and scored 31 goals for Ireland. She represented Ireland at six Women's EuroHockey Nations Championships. Nikki is a patron of Just a Ball Game.

Join GMB and Just A Ball Game’s Stronger Together event on June 19 to learn how to become a better LGBT+ ally in sport, the arts and in the workplace. Register now: https://www.gmb.org.uk/equalityevents

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