In 2016, Spanish water polo champion Victor Gutiérrez was the first water polo player in the world to come out as gay. Within the conservative sphere of sport, his honesty meant he joined the ranks of UK soccer star, Justin Fashanu the first footballer to come out (1990), UK rugby player Gareth Thomas (2009) and tennis ace, Czech-born Martina Navratilova (1981).
Subsequently, Gutiérrez became a human rights activist and role model for the LGBTQ+ community in Spain and during a Ted talk given in 2017, he flagged up education as the key to tolerance and respect when it comes to diversity.
“There’s a strong link between the lack of LGBTQ+ visibility in sport and a lack of education,” he said. “Education allows us to have an open mind.”
Victor, who plays for CN Terrassa, notes wryly that his sexual orientation has earned him more coverage in the news than his sporting prowess. Just last month, it was this aspect of his life that made headlines when he filed a complaint against Serbian water polo player, CN Sabadell’s Nemanja Ubovic, who called him a “faggot” on two occasions and refused to apologize. Consequently, Ubovic became the first sportsperson to be officially fined and suspended for homophobia. “Today the world of sport is a little better for everyone,” tweeted Victor.
When ignorance is the problem, education is the answer. This month King’s College Madrid (Soto) has taken Victor Gutiérrez’s message and run with it, celebrating International Day Against Homophobia on May 17 by presenting students with information on the issue and suggesting angles to discuss.
The Post Office initiative of painting post boxes with the LGBTQ+ colours last year to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Day was highlighted as an example of a move by the authorities to be more inclusive, one that prompted naysayers to deface the post boxes with symbols of hatred and intolerance.
Students were asked what they thought of the Post Office’s initiative; how it might help the LGBTQ+ community to feel more integrated in mainstream society and why some people might have seen it as controversial. According to Head of PSHE at King’s College Madrid (Soto), Sylvain Warton, “The students reactions were very positive.”
In the UK, homophobic hate crime trebled from 6,655 in 2014-2015 to 18,465 in 2019-2020. In Spain, a survey taken last July by Cromosomax.com found that 40% of members of the LGBTQ+ community between the ages of 22 and 45 had been subject to serious online homophobic abuse.
Meanwhile, a report in Spain’s ABC national newspaper found that 66% of homophobic attacks go unreported; we only hear about a select few, such as the vicious assault and subsequent hospitalisation of a 43 year-old man in Alicante in February by at least 13 assailants, who shouted “Faggots! Get out of here! We’re going to kill you all!”; or the 25-year-old on the Madrid metro this March who was punched in the face after an onslaught of homophobic insults; and the young man who was set upon and choked in Madrid’s Puerta de Sol at the start of April as his aggressor shouted, “faggot!”
In a climate of spiralling polarisation, diversity of any sort can become a trigger for violence and abuse. And while homophobia has fortunately been rooted out in many areas of society, there are still pockets of the population that, due to a lack of education perhaps, find it hard to “live and let live”.
According to Sylvain, “Some students said they didn’t know this kind of thing was still happening nowadays. They were surprised homophobic attacks were on the rise.”
Turning the classroom into a forum for debate on the subject, students were asked to use well-thought-out arguments substantiated by precise examples when answering the following questions – always keeping an open mind and an attitude of respect: Have you ever witnessed homophobia? If yes, what happened? How should homophobia be punished? Why do you think few members of the LGBTQ+ community in sport come out as homosexual? Should they come out and why?
Explaining why the school feels it essential to draw attention to the issue and ensure students are aware of the importance of diversity, Sylvain insists, “British schools are meant to convey British values which include a culture built upon freedom and equality, where everyone is aware of their rights and responsibilities. It’s the rule of law; the need for rules to make a happy, safe and secure environment in which we can all live. Homophobia is not a political issue, it’s basic human rights.”