As a new era of motorsport begins, the internet has made it easier for people to be themselves and find like-minded individuals. With more visibility comes controversy as some have chosen not to embrace change.
Motorsport is slowly changing for LGBTQ+ staff. The sport has been historically seen as a “man’s man” sport, and the fat racing driver stereotype is still prevalent in the industry. However, there are some changes happening to change this.
Even after 25 to 30 years working in racing, there are still persons working in Formula 1 and other championships who feel they can’t be honest about their sexuality and gender identity in 2021, as more athletes feel comfortable coming out.
Despite drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, who have both donned Pride colors at several races this season, being helpful allies, many LGBT individuals in team garages feel more comfortable keeping closeted, according to many executives inside racing organizations.
Matt Bishop, Aston Martin’s chief communications officer, has over 25 years of experience in racing, and being “the only [out] homosexual in the F1 village” in the 1990s, he has regularly received letters from individuals trying to come out to colleagues after years in the sector.
“They believed they had to be [closeted] when they came [in F1] because, you know, mechanics sharing rooms with other mechanics, and the world wasn’t ready for them to come out,” Bishop told ESPN.
“Let’s assume they’ve worked for Williams or McLaren or anyone for 30 years and now feel the need to come out, and they’re married to their male partner, but they don’t. ‘I can’t come out right now,’ they say. ‘Not after 30 years of not being out.’”
Krystina Emmanouilides of Alfa Romeo Racing, a lesbian and an ambassador for Racing Pride, the world’s LGBTQ+ awareness organization, agrees. She claims to know members of the LGBTQ+ community at Formula One teams who are still hesitant to come out.
“I know individuals who have left F1 because of different issues with discrimination and sexism, not only on the sly but obviously as well,” she tells ESPN.
“Then there are some who return to racing years later, hoping that things have improved, even in new teams, but still having the same [bad] experience.”
Richard Morris, a homosexual race car driver and the creator of Racing Pride, explains how a simple change in vocabulary may make some individuals feel as if coming out isn’t an option.
It was during a seat fit with his soon-to-be head mechanic earlier in his career, before he came out publicly, when the issue of girlfriends came up.
Richard Morris, a Racing Pride ambassador, competed in the 2021 Britcar British Endurance Championship for the CW Performance squad. Dominic Fraser/Praga Cars
“‘Actually, no, I have a boyfriend,’ I didn’t feel like I could argue it. I simply felt compelled to go through with it because I didn’t want to jeopardize my [new] friendship with this individual “Morris, who competed in the 2021 Britcar Endurance Championship for CW Performance, says ESPN.
“I never use he/him because I’ve had so many talks where I’ve had to simply ditch all the pronouns and say’my partner does this, they do that.’ Because you’re concerned that if you tell you’re homosexual and they don’t accept you, they won’t give you the drive or treat you differently than your teammates.
“You start concealing aspects of your life automatically, and then you wind yourself in circumstances where you don’t bring your partner to collect your trophy at the end of the season, even if everyone else does.”
Racing Pride, which was launched in 2018 and is inspired by football’s Rainbow Laces campaign, seeks to promote inclusion, raise awareness, and educate people on how to make the sport accessible to everyone in collaboration with LGBTQ+ awareness organisation Stonewall. Trans endurance racer Charlie Martin, trans rally driver Rowena Purdy, and Sky Sports writer Jon Holmes are among its ambassadors.
READ MORE: 17 LGBTQ+ Athletes Talk About Coming Out
“It’s not that people in motorsport were unwilling to include more people; it’s that they didn’t know how to have those talks; they were just difficult conversations that never occurred,” Morris adds.
“However, if you are a member of a minority group, this might seem quite isolated. Then, even if the remarks aren’t directed at you, seeing others use harmful phrases strengthens your belief that you won’t be included.”
Those who belong to a minority group might find it difficult to find their place and feel comfortable in a sport that has traditionally been a white, hetero-masculine setting.
Matt Bishop, the Chief Communications Officer at Aston Martin Cognizant, has been working since the 1990s and is shown here with his spouse, Angel Bautista. LAT Motorsport Photographs
“Anyone who didn’t fit into that demographic bubble was very much an aberration,” Bishop, a Racing Pride ambassador, adds.
“As a result, I encountered some homophobia. You obviously have no idea how much you truly deal with since part of it happens behind your back…”
He then recounts an event from a few years ago in which a motorist who he could not identify explicitly called him a “fat f——t.”
“I’ve lost weight since then,” he jokes, “but my desire to guys hasn’t dimmed.”
“I did protest to it, not because it was inaccurate, but because it was unpleasant…. The strange thing is, it really turned out worse for him since no one thought less of me after hearing it, but they did think less of him.”
Emmanouilides, a Greek-Australian, did not come out to her family until after university, but she has always been upfront about her sexuality to everyone else.
“All I want to do is educate people,” she adds. “Being a woman, especially a homosexual woman, in Formula One is essential to me, not only because I want to be visible and available to others, but also because I want to assist other individuals who want to be in my situation.”
“Everyone in Formula One is there because they love racing, so there’s always a common tie, and I believe it’s important to demonstrate that.”
“Yes, you may be a woman in a male-dominated sector, or a homosexual guy, or non-binary, transgender, but at the end of the day, everyone loves racing,” she says.
Formula 1 has made attempts to rectify its lack of diversity, initiating the We Race As One campaign in 2020 to promote awareness of racial disparity and prejudice in general, including anti-gay speech.
“It will not be a one-week or one-year topic that fades as concerns fade from headlines,” they said in a statement. “Rather, it will underlie the Formula 1 strategy to make a genuine impact in our sport and society.”
“This will entail the formation of a Formula 1 Task Force that will listen to individuals from all corners of the paddock, including the drivers, as well as externals, and make recommendations on how to increase diversity and opportunity in Formula 1 at all levels.”
In the sense that prejudice is a larger social issue, racing may be a symptom rather than the illness. Emmanouilides, on the other hand, believes that a sport’s advancement in terms of diversity and inclusion may be noticed in the audience’s behavior.
“She was passing through the grandstand and was screamed at by a bunch of males, and one of them cried out, ‘Hey love, your seat’s in my lap,’” she said of a lady she knows who attended the Austrian Grand Prix in July.
“The fact that this is occurring at races demonstrates that F1 in general still has a lot more work to do to enhance diversity since, obviously, recruiting this sort of fan base is merely a reflection of where the sport is right now.”
“We’ll never have those voices heard in the areas where choices are made unless you have a more varied spectrum of individuals, not just inside an organization or a structure, but also in higher positions,” she says.
Krystina Emmanouilides, an Alfa Romeo engineer and Racing Pride ambassador, believes that top sports authorities should do more to encourage inclusive cultures.
However, true advancement entails more than slapping stickers on race vehicles. Vettel and his Aston Martin crew have been celebrating Pride throughout the season, with Vettel wearing a rainbow T-shirt and outfit at the Hungarian Grand Prix to protest the country’s anti-gay legislation implemented in June.
According to Emmanouilides, the most effective way to create an inclusive sport and working environment is to reform regulations and contracts.
Everyone can feel comfortable working at their best if they know what is expected of them from the start, and they know there is a system in place to help them if they need it.
“You don’t simply come out as a homosexual person once. You have to come out again every time you start a new job or are in a new setting. Some individuals find it difficult to even come out once in this F1 setting “she explains.
“If you’re unsure whether or not you can come out, or if you don’t know how others will respond, you’ll never work at your best.”
“I believe that articulating [expectations] and establishing frameworks are the only ways to assure that these things [discrimination, unconscious prejudice] do not persist over time… it’s all about setting the tone.”
Everyone must be on board to set the tone. Sponsors, investors, race partners, and host nations all contribute to the sport’s funding, and adhering to the rules may be challenging at times, such as while racing in countries with anti-gay legislation.
Qatar, for example, which prohibits homosexuality, stated that rainbow flags will be permitted for the 2022 FIFA World Cup to honor “the diversity of people’s cultures,” but gay inhabitants still live in dread.
When Emmanouilides asked several friends and colleagues in the F1 world how they felt about coming to Qatar for the latest Grand Prix, she got a mixed answer.
Some stated it made them uncomfortable, but that it would be more difficult for those who are still secretly gay to share their issues with their bosses for fear of losing their jobs.
“There aren’t many chances inside the sport, so if you don’t want to do it, there are a hundred other people lined up for your job,” she adds. “I feel this is why people are so hesitant to stand out for what they believe in, and why HR structures are so crucial.”
Then, with McLaren, Matt Bishop interviews Lewis Hamilton in 2008, the year he won his first Formula One championship. LAT Motorsport Photographs
What kind of influence does Racing Pride have?
Morris claims that the organization’s goal was never to draw attention to the sport’s issues with diversity. It was more about demonstrating that, despite its traditionally male image, racing can be, and is, a welcoming environment for individuals.
He said, ” “The goal was always to be upbeat and highlight that there are LGBTQ+ individuals out there doing amazing things and having a wonderful time. We believed that the visual depiction was crucial. Then we teamed up with television shows, teams, and organizations to help us spread the word.”
It’s also not about pressuring those who don’t want to come out. “We don’t put that [pressure] on anybody,” he adds, “but the whole point of having these ambassadors is to harness the collective strength.”
“We hope that LGBTQ+ individuals throughout the sport will be able to connect with and relate to someone from our diverse roster of ambassadors.”
The same is true for fans, according to Emmanouilides: “Consider how many LGBT people looked on when Aston Martin displayed the rainbow on their vehicle, maybe questioning whether there was a place for them. It’s going to make a great impact to have a team publicly supporting you.”
It seems to be working so far. Morris has already received a lot of supportive comments from individuals who found the awareness encouraging and no longer felt like the “only one,” or who found the guts to confide with their coworkers.
“For the first time ever, I informed the other individuals in my marshal position that I’m homosexual, and it’s been terrific, and they’ve been fully welcoming, and it’s been lovely,” he added.
When Sarah Moore finished second in a W Series race in Austria in June, she became the first openly LGBTQ+ driver to stand on a major Grand Prix podium. Getty Images/Clive Rose
Visibility is growing in other areas as well. Sarah Moore, the first openly LGBTQ+ driver to stand on a podium during a Grand Prix weekend, won the W Series season opener in Spielberg, Austria, in June.
Moore told ESPN, “I’m thrilled for everyone else in the community more than I am for myself because I feel like I’ve done it successfully for the [Racing Pride] team.”
“It made me happy, and I’ve gotten a lot of messages of affection on social media as a result. It has aided in the taking of a good move in the correct way.”
Three openly homosexual drivers compete in the W Series, a women-only racing series, whereas none compete in IndyCar, Formula One, or Formula E.
“What I would guess is… I believe the overall mindset of women in racing [is] that they’ve had to overcome hurdles that the guys haven’t,” W Series advisory board chairman and former Formula One driver David Coulthard told ESPN.
“They recognize that they are trailblazers, and they have been given a chance, in many instances when their careers were stagnating due to a lack of funds.”
“We [W Series] are relieving them of that [burden] and enabling them to concentrate just on driving, and I believe that openness helps them to be more [free] about their history, sexual orientation, and religion. W is all-inclusive.”
He continues, “Perhaps the conventional male sport is not as open as the W [Series].” “W believes that if you’re good enough, you’re good enough, no matter who you are or where you come from.”
Is there ever going to be a day when Racing Pride isn’t required? No, Morris argues, since the current aim is to educate, raise awareness, and help people feel welcomed, included, and free to be themselves.
He believes that from there, the emphasis will turn to appreciating the LGBTQ+ community’s presence and experiences, with the need to educate and advocate for diversity diminishing.
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