Rainbow Laces: Referee Ryan Atkin glad he took 'leap of faith' after coming out as gay

Ryan Atkin came out publicly in football in 2017 and hopes others will feel inspired to follow his lead and take 'leap of faith'; Rainbow Laces campaign enters eighth year of raising awareness around LGBT+ inclusion in sport

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Ryan Atkin, who officiates in the National League and the EFL, says the Rainbow Laces campaign is helping to raise awareness around mental health as well as anti-LGBT discrimination

Referee Ryan Atkin hopes his positive experience in football since coming out publicly as gay in 2017 helps to inspire other LGBT+ people in the game who might want to do the same.

Every Premier League captain wore a Rainbow Laces armband over the weekend, alongside other activity promoting the campaign during its annual activation period in sport, including handshake boards, ball plinths, and rainbow-coloured seats at the London Stadium where 2,000 fans were in attendance to watch West Ham play Manchester United.

Atkin admits that while there has been improvement in raising awareness of LGBT+ issues in sport, more still needs to be done.

Ryan Atkin, Rainbow Laces
Image: Atkin, who is a Stonewall Sport Champion, shared his story via Sky Sports three years ago

"It (the campaign) is relevant because we still have homophobia in sport," Atkin said. "One of the key elements of Rainbow Laces is to ensure that it is a positive campaign and people recognise that LGBT people exist in sport.

"Social media has been able to transport that message across the globe, where LGBT equality isn't what it is in the UK.

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Graeme Souness and Alex Scott agree that football must be an inclusive community in which LGBTQ+ players and fans feel safe, as the annual Rainbow Laces campaign activation continues

"It's personal to me and it's very important for my story, when I came out in 2017 and moving forward it's great to see some of the positive successes that it's had."

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Brighton goalkeeper Mathew Ryan explains why the Rainbow Laces campaign is so important and how it can help support the LGBT+ community

Regarding his own decision to come out, Atkin, who is a Stonewall Sport Champion, said: "Ultimately you've got to feel comfortable with who you are and in the right place mentally. Then it's a case of taking that leap of faith and knowing that things will be OK.

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"I've got a very positive story and all too often you hear of some very sad stories but my message is to take that leap of faith because everything will be OK in the end."

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Tottenham's Eric Dier and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg joined fans from the club's LGBT+ and allies supporters group Proud Lilywhites for a special video call in support of Rainbow Laces

The global coronavirus pandemic has impacted on all areas of society but Atkin has been delighted with the way the LGBT+ community in sport has dealt with the extreme challenges posed by an unprecedented situation.

"It's been a really difficult year this year with the pandemic, and LGBT+ people do proportionately suffer with mental health more than other groups," he said.

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Speaking on the The Women’s Football Show, Brighton head coach and ex-England Women’s boss Hope Powell opened up about her experience of coming out and how life became easier for her afterwards

"What we've seen is that people have had to move back in with family members who perhaps don't accept their sexuality and can't go to the places they feel comfortable because they've been closed.

"What's been positive is individuals have taken to other platforms to stay in touch with each other and support each other. So for me, it's about that community spirit even though sport may not be happening."

Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride which supports Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign. If you'd like to help inspire others in sport by sharing your own story of being LGBT+ or an ally, please contact us here.

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