Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Anton Hysén

Anton Hysén looks every inch the modern soccer player. The 20-year-old Swede has his initials tattooed behind one ear and his parents' names on each forearm. On his left arm, in particularly elaborate lettering, is: "UNWA". This is Hysén's tribute to Liverpool, his birthplace, and the anthem of his favorite club – You'll Never Walk Alone.

In March of this year the left-sided midfielder came out as Sweden's first openly gay male soccer player. He is only the second high-level player to come out in the world, ever. The first, Justin Fashanu, revealed he was gay in 1990, found himself shunned by the sports world and hanged himself eight years later.

A generation on, when gay men and women play prominent roles in every other kind of entertainment, it appears somewhat anachronistic that world soccer has no openly gay players – apart from Hysén. Although, as he points out, he currently plays in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer, working in the local Volvo factory to support himself, Hysén's honesty about his sexuality is a big deal. His family is a soccer playing dynasty in Sweden; Hysén's older brother, Tobias, is a Swedish international; their father, Glenn, was a tough defender who remains a celebrity in Sweden. Perhaps most significantly, Hysén, like the English cricketer Steven Davies (see post on October 19), who came out in February 2011, made his declaration at the start of his career.

A bouncy, articulate athlete who speaks excellent English with an American twang picked up during a year at college there, Hysén is at ease with his decision, but he says he has no time for gay stereotypes. As he politely puts it: "I'm not a big Pride person. There's nothing wrong with Pride, but it's just not my thing."

Injuries stalled his development as a player with the Swedish premier-league club Häcken, and now Hysén is rebuilding his career at Utsiktens, where his father became coach last year. Hysén did not court the flurry of global publicity that came with his revelation. During a sports magazine interview, Glenn casually mentioned his son's sexuality; the journalist then politely approached Hysén to see if he wanted to come out. Hysén thought he might as well and, with typical frankness, told Offside magazine: "It is completely strange, isn't it? It's all fucked up. Where the hell are all the others? No one is coming out."

So far, reaction has been the polar opposite to that surrounding Fashanu, except for one offensive letter from a fan. "Everyone has been very positive. I was on the train last weekend and this girl said: 'You've made the world a better place, thank you for being there for everyone,' and I haven't done anything," Hysén smiles. "But when you think about it, you kinda have. Obviously I haven't been playing in the top league but I'm still going for it, and I'm still the only active player who has come out, so of course it's huge."

Locker room banter is notoriously homophobic, but Hysén insists he is totally comfortable at Utsiktens. "Everyone is positive. Everyone," he says of his teammates. It may help that nine of the team are under 22 years old. "Who cares about a gay joke? I do it too. I joke about myself."

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