Gloucestershire Cricket physio Chris Powell has described coming out as gay to the dressing room as a “life-changing moment”.
Speaking openly about his sexuality for the first time, Chris, who’s worked at Glos since 2016, has said he’s received an “overwhelming” level of support from players and staff since coming out in 2017, and hopes him sharing his positive experience will encourage other members of the LGBTQ+ community who work in professional sport to feel comfortable in revealing their “true self”.
Chris, 38, came out to his colleagues a year after he told his family and after almost 12 months of hiding his sexuality at work. He admits he deliberately kept himself in the closet out of fear of being marginalised or treated differently in the workplace, and has recalled feeling a sense of “shame” about his sexuality, a feeling he now acknowledges as unwarranted.
It wasn’t until after Chris came out to his colleagues at Glos Cricket, on National Coming Out Day in 2017, that he realised the “thought of coming out was a million times worse than reality”. He says the outpouring of support from everyone at The Shire was all he “ever wanted” and has helped him to live his life to the full, without hiding who he really is.
“It was a genuinely life-changing moment for me because I was in a bad place before coming out; I was in this hopeless position where I didn’t know how my life was going to develop”, said Chris, speaking about his experience of coming out at work.
He added: “I would say I was having a great time at Glos before coming out, and I felt fully part of the team, but afterwards I was able to be my true self, who I am and who I want to be.
“It was a massive turning point for me, being gay was the one big thing I had lied about, hidden or concealed in the past. There was definitely a feeling of shame for being gay and there was also shame about hiding it.
“From that point onwards the players and other members of staff treated me no differently and showed they were comfortable with talking to me about it; that’s what I always wanted and I’ve never looked back.
“Since coming out my experience at work has been overwhelmingly positive, for sure, both players and staff have been supportive, engaging and interested in my personal life. They’ve been interested in me as a person, and not as a label, and me being gay has not been a big deal to anyone in the Club.
“I’m just one of the team like anyone else, and that’s all I could ask for.”
Growing up Chris said being gay never seemed like an option for him as he didn’t know anyone else who was gay, nor did he have any gay role models. He recalls having girlfriends in his early teens before realising in his late teens that he’s attracted to men.
Despite making such a life-changing admission to himself, Chris kept his true sexuality a secret for around a decade out of fear of social exclusion or bullying.
Chris explained: “I think I probably realised I was gay relatively late, in my late teens I would say, but then stayed in the closet for a good ten years after that. I had no gay role models and I didn’t know any gay people, so it never really crossed my mind to freely live a gay life.
“I came out to my friends and family only six years ago, in 2016, friends first, family later. It wasn’t a brave choice, it came more out of desperation because I’d had a health issue and I thought, this is ridiculous, I can’t carry on living in an inauthentic way.
“It became more like my only option because I thought, ‘I can’t continue to live my life in this way’. The way I thought was I either do it, or there is no life.
“The first person I told was my best friend, over a text message, because that way I could chuck it out there and run away from it. I went back to it later on, read the text message and saw how overwhelmingly supportive he was, and all of my worst fears weren’t realised.
“My fears growing up were not that people would treat me aggressively or call me names to my face, but that I’d stop being included in the same way.
“I’m very lucky to have good people around me, good family and good friends, and I’m fortunate to say that the people I choose to spend my time with have been overwhelmingly supportive and beyond understanding.”
When he first started at Gloucestershire Cricket in 2016, Chris had only recently come out to his nearest and dearest and had no plans to tell people at work, partly because he didn’t feel quite ready and partly because of concerns of how it might affect his career.
Chris said he was fearful of the reception he’d receive if he came out as gay in his male-dominated sporting environment, and questioned if such a revelation would impact on his job as a physio.
Those fears however, were far from the reality of how Chris was treated at Glos after he decided to out himself on Twitter, in Autumn 2017.
Chris said: “During my first year at Glos I hadn’t even entertained the idea of telling anyone. I didn’t feel like it was entirely necessary and felt like I’d be making my life more difficult than it needed to be.
“But it was tough to go on like that, I had to constantly deflect questions and closet myself again. I just didn’t feel like it would be a good option for me to come out and say ‘oh by the way, I’m gay’.
“Those were my fears of being gay in this male-dominated sporting environment.
“Historically working in professional sport has not been a particularly welcoming environment for people who are gay, and that caused me concern because I wondered if I’d be marginalised or treated differently as someone working in that environment. I can’t deny it was harder to come out to people at work because of the possible career consequences.
“People are in fairly compromised positions with me, in various states of undress and in states of privacy. I was worried if people would still want to come to me and question if they’d want to be in a one-on-one environment with me.
“I actually came out to the world at the same time, on National Coming Out Day in 2017; I went onto Twitter and wrote a post. Mark Thorburn was the first person to contact me about it, he’s a close friend of mine and he asked what I was on about, and I told him that was my way of coming out.
“A couple of the players saw it and really put a lot of effort into engaging with me about it. They’d ask if I was seeing anyone, my experiences of coming out and what it’s like to make that step. Those sorts of conversations came up as I was treating them and I don’t recall ever experiencing any awkwardness or negativity.”
Since coming out, Chris believes his experiences at work have been enhanced by his ability to be himself as an openly gay man, and believes he’s become a more confident person. Having gone through such a positive experience of coming out at Gloucestershire Cricket, Chris says he hope to become an ambassador for members of the LGBTQ+ community to help others feel comfortable in coming out.
“The thought of coming out was a million times worse than reality, and society has moved on so much now, to the point that thankfully, for many people, the benefits far outweigh the risks of coming out”, said Chris, as he looks to encourage more members of the LGBTQ+ community who work in professional sport to feel able to come out in a safe and welcoming environment.
He added: “On a personal front I am really enjoying what I do as a physio, for sure, but I’d like to contribute more in a society and community sense, such as with mental health first aid and being part of the Club’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) group.
“I’d also like to become more of a voice for encouraging change to happen more quickly for more people, to help people come out in sport.”