The news that Tom Daley had come out was met by the majority of people with a “Yes… We already knew that…”, much like parents who hug their teenage child after they’ve come out and tell them “I’ve always known”. It’s becoming more and more commonplace for celebrities to come out of the closet, with Daley’s revelation being reported in the same week as both Clare Balding’s and Maria Bello’s. People’s sexual orientation is becoming less and less of a big deal, and yet like Stephen Gately’s front-page coming out in 1998, Daley’s sexual orientation is big news. Why is this the case? And what makes his revelation more newsworthy than anyone else’s?
Secondly, Daley is a figure who has been clearly marketed as a teenage sex symbol. Since coming of age, Daley’s beaming smile, immaculate teeth, perfectly chiselled body and ludicrously small swimming trunks have been plastered across TV adverts, magazines and the internet. We’re so used to seeing him with only 5% of his body covered that seeing him actually wearing clothes is somewhat peculiar; when he released his 2013 ‘sexy calendar’ he was actually wearing far more clothing than normal. Yes, Daley has a huge gay following, but his teenage pin-up image is very much aimed at the same market as One Direction, Little Mix and High School Musical. This saccharine family-friendly market isn’t one that’s quite ready for homosexuality yet. You’ve only got to look at One Direction, of which at least one is clearly a flamer, where marketers believe their brand as ‘teenage idols’ could only be shattered by the revelation that one (or more) of them is gay.
Regardless of whether you like Brand Daley, whether Splash is the most awful show on TV or if his plucked and preened image is a little too contrived, Daley is breaking the taboo that we’ve long talked about needing breaking. Tom Daley, one of the country’s most popular current sports stars, is in a relationship with a man. And the reaction throughout the British press has been exemplary. Not a bad word has been spoken; words of encouragement have flooded in from the highest echelons of the media and sport. At a time when sport and its relationship to the LGBT community is greatly in the limelight (with widespread calls for athletes and sponsors to boycott the Sochi Olympics), to have its Golden Boy happily announce to the world that he’s in a relationship with a man is kind of a BIG DEAL. In years to come, a star’s sexuality will be wholly irrelevant and probably go unreported, but until the hangover from homophobia has subsided, role models like Daley are vitally important for young LGBT people.
We can clamber onto our high horse and say that his sexuality really shouldn’t be newsworthy, but you only have to see some of the reactions on Twitter to see that homophobia is alive and well. Support has come from many angles, but much bigotry, prejudice and hate has also been aimed at Daley over the last few days. It’s easy for me, in my safe gay Mancunian bubble, to say that one young man coming out makes very little difference to the world, but to young Julian on that council estate in Bradford, having Daley as a role model might make ALL the difference.
However, to have responses on Twitter to his coming out still including, and I quote, “Tom Daley is gay I am now ashamed of my country ew we can't have a bloody fag representing us” says a lot. Gay Rights may have made enormous headway over the last few years, but that responses of hate like this can still spill out into the public sphere in our supposedly ‘tolerant’ country speaks volumes. Vanessa Feltz said in her column in the Daily Express, "people's sexual proclivities don't constitute news"; for an issue of Human Rights and equality, where the battle is still ongoing and those who speak the loudest are living where it’s safest, visibility is tantamount and thus of COURSE it’s news. I grew up in a rural community, where evolving societal ethics had taken decades to filter down to us and for places like that, it is vastly important to see such a positive and hyper-visible gay role model as Daley. Good on him, I say, and I hope he is the first of many (I’m looking at you directly, One Direction).