11th October 2020
COMING OUT DAY: CORINNE HUMPHREYS & ETHAN AKANNI
The Athletics Pride Network was launched in April 2020 and it is a LGBTQ+ community for everyone in the athletics family. Supported by British Athletics, the group has continued to grow over the last few months, and we have hosted several ‘Forums’ for our members.
In August, Commonwealth 4x100m relay gold medallist, Corinne Humphreys, and British Athletics Indoor Championships 60m Hurdles bronze medallist, Ethan Akanni, sat down for a fascinating conversation with Andy Paul, core member of the APN and coach at Birchfield Harriers, to discuss their experiences of being part of the LGBTQ+ community within the sport.
With International Coming Out Day taking place on Sunday 11 October, it is timely to look back on the conversation and pick out some of the highlights from the discussion but you can watch the full conversation via the YouTube link at the bottom of the article.
Ethan Akanni on ‘coming out’ and the affect it had on his athletics:
I didn’t come out to my family until about a year ago, but I’ve known I was gay since I was 13. So, it literally took seven years for me to build up the confidence. There were a lot of restrictions that I was putting on myself. Basically, through my whole athletics career up until that point, I was hiding.
As soon as I came out to my family, I felt the weight fall off my shoulders and that made me feel lighter on the track as well. I followed that up during this indoor season; it gave me the confidence boost that I never knew I needed.
When I first got into athletics, I was inspired by the 2012 Olympics, so going to the Olympics has also been the goal for me. Because of that weightlessness that I felt during the indoor season this year, I feel like I am now much more able to achieve that goal. The two have worked hand in hand and hopefully they will motivate me to greater things.
Corinne Humphreys on how ‘coming out’ gave her a fresh start on the track and life:
It was a fresh start. It actually makes me upset how much I held myself back in my junior years. I could have had quite a good junior career, but I was so scared to be around people because I didn’t want my ‘secret’ to be figured out.
In the earlier part of my career – so U17s – it was just a small group and my coach, and they didn’t know. Forget competition, even in training I was hiding a part of myself. When I got to U20/U23, I started to have a partner, but I still wasn’t out in the sport, so I was like I want to compete, but I can’t have my girlfriend there to support me. If she’s there, we have to act like we are friends. All of that does contribute to how you perform.
I came out in the sport around 2017. I started to be more open about my sexuality. This was around the time of BUCS Championships, and because I didn’t care anymore, I won BUCS. Even on the circuit, I was very much unapologetic in being myself. I didn’t have to check myself before a race. It definitely helped so much to come out.
Ethan on the support of his club:
My home club (Bexley) have actually contacted me to ask how they can make the club more inclusive which I thought was a massive step. They saw our ‘Athletics Pride Network, an audience with’ and they contacted me to see what they can do to contribute. I found that really inspiring and it made me really happy. Since then, they have created a ‘diversity and wellbeing’ page on their website which not only includes the link to the APN website, but it also shares our goals for the network and my role within the APN.
Ethan on his advice for coming out:
If you haven’t come out to your group yet, maybe find one or two people that you are closest with and share it with them first. When you feel comfortable, then share it with the wider group. You don’t want to feel like you are on your own.
Throughout school I always had friends who supported me when I was ready to come out to other friends and family. Your support group, however small or big, is so important.
Corinne on advice:
I was literally myself. I didn’t make a big revelation that ‘I am gay’ but it just is what it is. Because I didn’t act surprised that I was gay meant they didn’t meet me with that reaction of ‘oh really’. I was very casual about it – me being casual means people are very casual around me. The more you are yourself the more people don’t think this is something additional about you, it is just a part of you.
Corinne on what she would tell her younger self:
No regrets about how I came out. I just wish I had done it sooner. I would tell my younger self, there are plenty of fish in the sea, your sexuality doesn’t define you, and how other people feel about you is not more important than how you feel about yourself.
Ethan on what he would tell his younger self:
I wish I did it a lot sooner, then I wouldn’t have had to keep a secret for longer. It would have been so much better for me mentally and physically if I’d done it a lot sooner.
Like Corinne said, your sexuality doesn’t define you, it is one part of who you are. It’s wasn’t a case of ‘you are a gay man’, it was ‘you are Ethan Akanni’.
I’d say focus on yourself a lot more. I’m quite a bubbly person so I like to interact with a lot of people but sometimes it is good to take some time for yourself and zone out; I think that is extremely important.
Find out more about the Athletics Pride Network here, follow us on Twitter at @AthleticsPride1, join the private Facebook group, or email us at Athleticspridenetwork@britishathletics.org.uk – we would loved to hear from you!