Rugby Super League referee James Child has spoken publicly about his sexuality for the first time and the vile homophobic abuse he encountered in his career.
Child, who was appointed a Super League referee by the Rugby Football League in 2010, shared that he has always been open about his sexuality with family, friends and colleagues. But he said he didn’t “necessarily broadcast” the fact that he was gay.
He told the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast that he’s “petty open about the fact I have a male partner” on social media. Child said: “I don’t necessarily broadcast it but just live my life normally, and that’s the way I’ve chosen to deal with it up until now.
“And in many ways, my sexuality and my job are completely separate, and it’s irrelevant.”
Child explained that “it doesn’t matter whether I’m gay or straight” when he’s on a pitch and makes a call. “What matters is whether the decision is right or wrong,” he said.
Child has received homophobic abuse because of his career
Like any sporting official, Child gets plenty of abuse, including some of a homophobic nature. He said: “I do receive my fair share, including a couple of death threats over the past few years that have been referred to the police.”
He said “one, if not two” of these threats were homophobic. Child said he also received homophobic abuse during games that were “specifically directed” at him.
“By me speaking about this publicly, there can’t then be a situation where somebody is homophobic but denies knowing I’m gay,” he said.
Child said he’s not “denying people their opportunity” to “shout at me as a referee”. But he said “we don’t need that level of personalisation” when individuals “start bringing religion or disability or sexual orientation” into it.
Child added: “If this will help educate people and get us all to be a little more respectful to each other, then that’s great.”
‘It shouldn’t define who I am’
He said his sexuality is “just part of who I am”, and that might be why “it took me so long to come to terms with it”. Child explained: “Because there wasn’t that person or people that I felt I could identify with, then I think that’s what made that more difficult and that journey longer.”
He said that there have been more people who have opened up about their sexuality – not just in sport – which he said “has only got to be positive”. Child shared he had “never had a bad reaction to telling anybody” in his family or wider social circles about his sexuality.
He said that he had “built it up worse than it actually was”. Child added: “I was blown away by how my grandma reacted.
“She didn’t even bat an eyelid.
“She said: ‘As long as you’re happy, I still love you’.”