Tom Daley uses the Commonwealth Games to elevate LGBTQ activists and athletes

In a ceremony at Windsor Castle on July 13, Tom Daley received his Order of the British Empire from Prince Charles.

Since then, he has dedicated himself to demonstrating exactly why he received this honor in the first place.

Although Daley is not competing at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, he has still found a way to make a big impact on the event. As part of the opening ceremony, Daley carried the Queen’s baton to Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium.

And in an effort to uplift other LGBTQ athletes and activists – some from countries where homosexuality is banned – Daley brought six other competitors and public figures from the Commonwealth.

Daley was accompanied by Nigerian activist Bisi Alimi, Indian runner Dutee Chand, Jamaican activist Glenroy Murray, Ugandan human rights defender Prossy Kakooza, Trinidad and Tobago lawyer Jason Jones and Zimbabwean activist Moud Goba.

It’s one thing for one of the world’s most famous gay athletes to use his platform to champion our community on the world stage. But during the opening ceremony, Daley also chose to use his time in the spotlight to help marginalized LGBTQ figures tell their stories.

Alimi, for example, is the first gay man to speak publicly on Nigerian television. And Chand broke barriers as India’s first openly gay national team athlete.

Around his appearance at the Games, Daley is also hosting a new BBC documentary in which he has visited several of the aforementioned countries to raise awareness of the conditions in which many LGBTQ people live in the Commonwealth.

He explained to the media: “I have lived with homophobia all my life, competing in countries where it is illegal to be me and where I don’t feel safe to leave the place where I compete. If I feel like that as a privileged man, I can’t imagine what everyday life is like for LGBT+ people in the Commonwealth.

After recovering from his Hell of a Homecoming endurance challenge, Daley was able to run again with the Queen’s Baton.
Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

In total, these Commonwealth Games have at least 40 LGBTQ athletes competing. One of them — swimmer Dan Jervis — came out publicly a month ago to miss these Games.

As a gay athlete who won multiple FINA World Series medals in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Daley’s life experiences helped him bond with competitors like Chand and Jamaican swimmer Michael Gunning. His documentary is an attempt to elevate their stories. Its premiere is scheduled for September.

When Daley was made OBE in January, he vowed to use his honored status “to help create change” and “to make the whole Commonwealth a better place for LGBT people”. His actions during the ceremony indicated that he intended to keep those promises.

“LGBT+ athletes need to be safe and comfortable being themselves without fear of persecution or death,” Daley said.

Coming from him, it’s not just a platitude. It’s a mission statement.

Naomi C. Amerson