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Tom Daley challenges homophobia in the Commonwealth for the BBC

Tom Daley investigates homophobia in the Commonwealth for BBC1 in Tom Daley: Illegal To Be Me.
Tom Daley investigates homophobia in the Commonwealth for BBC1 in Tom Daley: Illegal To Be Me. (Image credit: Getty)

Tom Daley is horrified at the appalling treatment of gay communities among many of the Commonwealth's 56 member states, most of whom have our Queen as head of state. In fact it is illegal to be gay in 35 of those Commonwealth countries, with punishments that can include whipping, life imprisonment and even the death penalty for anyone who is LGBTQ+.

"I’ve experienced homophobia all my life, competing in countries where it’s illegal to be me and where I don’t feel safe to leave the venue I’m competing in," says Tom. "If I feel like that as a privileged man, I can’t imagine what day-to-day life is like for LGBT+ people around the Commonwealth."

Britain's Olympic gold medallist and double world champion diver Tom Daley came out as gay in his teens and is now married to top TV and movie writer/producer Dustin Lance Black with whom he has a son Robbie. 

Now Tom wants to shine a light on an issue that he cares passionately about and lead these homophobic countries away from hatred. As thousands of athletes prepare to compete on the global stage at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the new BBC1 documentary Tom Daley: Illegal To Be Me follows Tom on his journey to some of the Commonwealth’s most homophobic countries to ask what the sporting world can do to help. 

"Seven Commonwealth nations have life imprisonment under laws imposed by Britain in the 19th century when it was a colonial power," Tom has explained. "Every person should be free to live their true authentic self, no matter where they’re born or who they are."

Tom travels to Pakistan where the maximum penalty is death by stoning. He also meets the only openly gay athlete on Jamaica’s national team, swimmer Michael Gunning, India’s first openly gay athlete Dutee Chand, plus swimmers Theresa Goh and Amini Fonua, both vocal supporters of LGBT+ rights in Singapore and Tonga. Many others speak under the protection of total anonymity, bravely revealing the extreme danger and vigilante violence that gay and lesbian athletes face.

Returning to the UK, the film ends by showing how Tom takes a very public stand alongside other top athletes with the Progress Pride flag on display behind them at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony and making a universal call for the inclusion of LGBT+ people. 

"Along with some of these inspirational people, we’re working on a campaign that we wanted to be more than just something you see in a documentary that you watch for an hour and then move on," says Tom. "We wanted it to be something that actually makes a difference."

Tom Daley winning Olympic gold.

Tom Daley winning Olympic gold. (Image credit: Getty)

Tom Daley, who won his first Olympic gold medal in the Synchro event with partner Matty Lee in Tokyo, has spoken out on the issue before. Last year, at the 2021 Attitude Awards, he declared how he will campaign to have countries that carry the death penalty for LGBTQ+ people banned from the Olympics as he accepted Attitude magazine's Sport Awards.

"I think it’s really important to try and create change, rather than just highlighting or shining a light on those things,” Tom said. "So I want to make it my mission over the next, well, hopefully before the Paris Olympics in 2024, to make it so that the countries criminalise and [where it’s] punishable by death for LGBT people are not allowed to compete at the Olympic Games.”

* Tom Daley: Illegal To Be Me premieres on BBC1 on Tuesday 9 August at 9pm and will then become available on BBCiPlayer.

Tom Daley and his husband Dustin Lance Black.

Tom Daley and his husband Dustin Lance Black. (Image credit: Getty)
Nicholas Cannon
Nicholas Cannon

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.