Sam Stanley is an English Rugby Union player who has represented the England Sevens team.
One Love, All Equal: Can you tell us a little more about yourself?
Sam Stanley: I’m 24 years old and I currently play professional rugby for Ealing Trailfinders. I was born in England to an English mother and Kiwi father of Samoan descent. I have two older brothers, both born in New Zealand & and younger sister born in England. I grew up in a place called Thurrock, which is in the county of Essex. All my life I’ve wanted to be a rugby player and I’m hugely privileged to still be doing so having had some career threatening injuries. Before I finally managed to pluck up the courage and just be myself, growing up I’d struggled a lot with the fact that I just happen to be gay.
OLAE: You’ve been quoted before as saying that you realized that you may have been gay at the age of 10 or 11. But at when was the moment that you decided to share this with your family?
SS: This is true. I remember feeling different from any of my friends I grew up with quite early on. At the time though I guess being gay wasn’t the ‘norm’ and to be honest I wouldn’t have known much about it so I saw it as a phase. I told my family in early 2014.
OLAE: How did they react?
SS: My siblings were very supportive with it and have even embraced my partner. I think for my parents it came as a big shock and something that will take time for them to get used to.
OLAE: We’ve read in other interviews that you’ve had suicidal thoughts in the past because of the struggle with your sexuality. How did you cope during this difficult period?
SS: To be honest with you I didn’t really cope too well at all. It’s now something I look back on and realize the stupidity of it had I decided to really go take my own life. At the same time the realisation that some people do is quite heartbreaking having seen the positivity and steps forward the LGBT community are making with inclusiveness. It’s obviously easy for me to say this now I’ve been through it but I know there are many people still out there that are in the position I was. I just hope that one day, even the thought of taking your own life for being gay will be something of the past.
OLAE: Did other athlete’s coming out have an impact on your own decision to come out? Was there someone in particularly that influenced in your decision?
SS: Yes, most definitely. There’s Gareth Thomas who was the first ever rugby player to come out as gay and then Keegan Hirst. He was the first rugby league player to do so but what helped the most in his coming out is that he is still playing and the reaction he got showed that he was still able to do what he loved whilst being his true self. That inspired me a lot.
There were a few people who played their part in my decision to finally be true to myself. I can’t thank my best friend Remi enough. She really helped me in finally being honest with my family and without her I would probably still be living a great big lie. The decision to go publicly was really influenced by Ben Cohen (former England Rugby International & 2003 World Cup Winner) who took the time to meet up with me and gave me a great deal of advice.He’s not gay himself but has a campaign that battles bullying and homophobia and he seemed the perfect person to talk to for me as he knows what the rugby environment is like.
OLAE: Have you ever experienced any sort of homophobia?
SS: Personally I haven’t but in changing rooms I’ve heard nasty things in the past said about gay people even though not aimed at me was still pretty tough to hear and take. Stuff like that really put me right back into my shell.
OLAE: What kinds of issues or controversies related to the LGBT community have you addressed so far?
SS: I’ve been to a few events and shared my story. I can only show that the rugby world isn’t as bad a what I first thought and I just hope my story can inspire any up and coming rugby players with a dream to play professional that it doesn’t matter your sexual orientation as long as you can play the game.
OLAE: How do you feel now that you come out as gay?
SS: I’ve never felt better. Not being afraid of showing my affection for the man I love. It’s something I’d kept secret for far too long. He plays a huge part in my life and I don’t know where I’d be without him. It’s a whole new world outside the closet haha!
OLAE: Rugby is a sport revered by millions, especially in England, what was the reaction from the sporting world to your coming out?
SS: Overwhelmingly positive! I couldn’t tell you the amount of messages I received from team mates past and present and even from past coaches showing their support. Things like that really meant a lot and I was more annoyed I’d been hiding for so long.
OLAE: What words of advice would you like to share with the LGBT youth who are reading this interview?
SS: Never try and handle something this big alone. Try and find someone who is extremely close to you and knows pretty much everything about you (other than being gay of course) whether that is a friend or even a sibling. Most people are a lot more helpful with this and the world is definitely moving forward with LGBT issues so just find someone you can trust and hopefully they’ll be able to guide you in the right direction. You have one life so just be true to yourself and you’ll be much happier in the long run. A closeted life is a wasted life!!
OLAE: Is there anything additional words or message you would like to share with our readers?
SS: Thanks for taking the time to read and I just hope if you’re someone struggling with your sexuality you can find the courage to live the life you want and not the life others want of you!
OLAE: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to speak with us Sam.
SS: My pleasure guys! All the best, Sam.
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