Why calling athletes gay based on their social media is not ok

An open letter to Outsports

I’m having a bit of an argument with Outsports on twitter because of this article:

http://www.outsports.com/2016/8/30/12621704/lgbt-athletes-rio-olympics-coming-out-media

You should never, EVER say an athlete is gay unless they have specifically stated it themselves to you or to another media outlet. If you ‘determine’ they might be queer based on their social media activity, then you should ask them before including them in any article discussing their sexual orientation.

You think that would be simple, but no.

The thing is, you can get it wrong and Outsports have admitted as much in the article:

In two cases we had to remove athletes after their representatives wrote us and claimed that the athletes were not public about their sexual orientation.

‘Claimed’?, ‘CLAIMED’?! You know Outsports, I think they’d know. Or, maybe the athlete doesn’t want you taking away their power and their right to talk about their sexuality with a media outlet of their choice when they chose.

You’re putting words in athletes’ mouths and taking the control away from them. This isn’t about whether they like Vegemite or not, it’s a deep-rooted part of their being that you have no right to talk about unless given express permission.

But they look gay and they do gay things! On social media! In public!

Look, I hear you. I do. So you know what I did? I ASKED THEM.

From my Queer Thinking talk:

Michelle Heyman. She plays football for the Matildas and for Canberra United. She’s never spoken to media about her sexuality yet when I asked her why she hasn’t come out, her reply was:
And that’s the thing, she is. You only have to look at her instagram. It’s there if you know what to look for.

So yeah, I get that ‘coming out’ doesn’t have to be a big bells and whistles thing. It can be just on social. Read the whole talk.

However, I sent another email to an athlete who appeared to me to be just as ‘out’ as Michelle and this was her reply:

I don’t like sharing too much of my personal life. Obviously I do share some personal things, but I don’t want my sexuality being a focus for my brand so I would prefer not to partake in an article with this focus.
Appreciate you reaching out and running it by me before you wrote anything I hadn’t approved though.

OMFG NEWSFLASH: just because an athlete appears ‘out’ to you, doesn’t mean it’s ok to refer to them as such WITHOUT THEIR EXPRESS PERMISSION.

Yeah, I’m kinda worked up about this. I know some of the people on this list, I know who wasn’t asked and had to be removed (the lesbian mafia, it reaches far and wide).

Who are we, the media, to decide how out is out?

The moral of the story here is, as a journalist, you just don’t know! You don’t know how they’re going to feel about it unless you ask. SO ASK.