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.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rugby Player Jed Hooper

Rugby’s Old Redcliffians captain Jed Hooper has become the first Bristol Combination (SW England) player to announce publicly that he is gay. The 22-year-old forward came out to family and friends earlier this year and announced this week through a newspaper interview that he is homosexual, breaking one of the great taboos in arguably the most macho sport of all. Hooper hopes that his story can help other young rugby players come to terms with their sexuality.

A fierce competitor, Hooper ended years of anxiety connected to grappling with his true identity. The decision was far from easy. "I met a guy earlier this year who said he could not be with a man who was in the closet. That, basically, was the catalyst that I needed.”

Even so, Hooper still agonized over what he knew he had to do. "I was never going to do it bit by bit, that would have been too drawn out, so I decided to text everyone and put it on Facebook. Very quickly I must have had 40 replies, and all of them were positive."

Instantly, Hooper added, there were feelings of relief. "A massive weight came off my shoulders. If I couldn't accept myself the way I am, how could I expect my friends to? No punches were pulled with questions from the rugby lads, that's for sure. I can't repeat some of the things I was asked, but I've always been someone who has been at the center of any banter flying around, and the only thing that's changed is the type of banter. Being captain is a huge privilege, so when I made my announcement one of the first people I spoke to at Reds was our chairman, Ray Massey. I said that if the club doesn't want a gay man as its figurehead I would understand and step down. But he was brilliant and said 'you're our captain, and this doesn't change anything'. That support was massive to me."

Hooper first became aware that he was gay when he was 14. "At school, I didn't want to be with a girl, and I couldn't be with a boy, because I was a rugby player. If anyone is reading this, and they're in the same situation as me, all I want to say is don't bottle things up because, trust me, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The world's not against you. If my story can help one person, then this has been worth it."

Hooper follows on the heels of Welsh rugby player Gareth "Alfie" Thomas, who came out in 2009, also while still an active player. Hooper is the most capped rugby player and the first Welshman to win 100 international caps in rugby union. In a series of media interviews since his announcement, Gareth Thomas talked about life after coming out. As well, top referee Nigel Owens recently announced his homosexuality.

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