Keegan Hirst – why coming out is so important

Keegan Hirst proudly came out of the closet over the weekend to announce he was gay.

Hirst, 27, opened up about his sexuality to various media outlets at the weekend.  He spoke about fighting back demons in his head and how telling his wife, knowing children were involved, would further complicate the matter.

Less than twenty-four hours later he led his side, Batley Bulldogs into battle against Dewsbury Rams in the famous Heavy Woollen derby played at Fox’s Biscuits Stadium.

NothingButLeague writer Oliver Roby was at the game and said Hirst was best on field for his side;

Hirst came out to a rapturous reception from all sides of the ground before setting the platform for a dominant start from his side. He was unlucky not to score when he was held up over the line and was taken off after twenty minutes.

Dewsbury got back into the game while he was off the field but he lifted his side like any captain would when he came back on in the second half. Probably didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.

On Monday Keegan was interviewed by BBC Leeds morning program, quickly establishing himself as a well spoken young man who will be respected throughout the rugby league community.

The groundswell of support has been amazing through social media since the announcement. 

So Keegan Hirst isn’t the first.

His journey has been made easier over the years by other players outing themselves.  Former Welsh rugby international Gareth Thomas opened up about his sexuality in 2009 before making the switch to rugby league.  The last player of any great stature to come out before that was Ian Roberts when he was playing with the Manly Sea Eagles.  National Rugby League referee Matt Cecchin outed himself back in 2012 less than a year after officiating in the Grand Final between Manly Sea Eagles and New Zealand Warriors.

So why is it so important Keegan Hirst speaks up?

Keegan Hirst will make it easier for the next closeted rugby league player to open up, and feel comfortable with their sexuality.  We would live in a pretend, make believe world to even entertain the fact there isn’t someone playing rugby league battling the same demons that Hirst went through.

It’s also important that barriers continue to be broken down.  Back in 2011 ex Australian Rules player Jason Ackermanis famously said that gay players should remain in the closet, saying an openly gay player could “break the fabric of a club.”

Roberts in early 2011 told The Australian newspaper how important it was for him to come out in refuting Ackermanis’ claims.

It’s almost a responsibility for footballers to come out. It breaks down stereotypes like nothing else, particularly for young men.  There are gay kids in the suburbs and the country who are killing themselves because they see only a limited depiction of gay people that they don’t fit. If you don’t think this is a serious problem look at the statistics – gay teens are about the most likely to commit suicide.

Keegan Hirst has battled the depression and knows what it’s like to come out.  He will inspire young GLBT people in the West Yorkshire town of Batley.  He will inspire the GBLT people involved in the general rugby league community.  He will inspire GLBT people in the United Kingdom.

When the dust settles on another page of history it’s important that the rugby league community continues to support Keegan Hirst because there’s sure to be a tricky road ahead with so many emotions going through his head.

Well done Keegan Hirst, you will be seen as a legend!

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