‘There’s such power in numbers’: Theresa Goh issues rallying cry to LGBTQ+ people and allies ahead of Commonwealth Games
- ‘The Pride House Podcast’ episode 5 - with Singapore swimming star and two-time Commonwealth Games athlete Theresa Goh - available now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts
- Series is bringing athletes and activists together to discuss how Commonwealth sport can support the fight for LGBTQ+ equality
- Created by the team at Pride House Birmingham, which will open on July 22 for the 2022 Commonwealth Games
One of the few out LGBTQ+ athletes to have competed at a Commonwealth Games for a country where homosexuality is a criminal offence is calling for a strong show of allyship at Birmingham 2022.
Theresa Goh is one of Singapore’s most loved sports stars, having brought home a medal from the Rio 2016 Paralympics to cap a career that saw her become a world champion, set world records, and race at both Manchester 2002 and Melbourne 2006.
Since retiring from competitive swimming in 2019, she has used her platform to advocate for causes including disability and LGBTQ+ rights, and was chef de mission for Team Singapore at last year’s Asian Youth Para Games.
Singapore is one of 35 Commonwealth member states that still criminalises same-sex intimacy. The colonial-era law there is not enforced but “fuels stigma and marginalisation”, says Goh on a new episode of The Pride House Podcast, a series produced by the team at Pride House Birmingham which will be open for the duration of the multi-sport event in July and August.
She says the venue is a vital component in ensuring the ‘Games for Everyone’ message is more than just mere words, particularly for athletes, coaches and other members of delegations who are visiting Birmingham and who are LGBTQ+.
“How do we allow them to feel safe? I think that’s such a multi-faceted question,” says Goh on the podcast.
“We talk about the importance of allies and the point of privilege. When you know you have less to worry about, less to fear, then you want to be able to provide that sense of safety for somebody else as well.
“There’s such power in numbers. If we can just get more people to speak up and show that they are behind us, that they are supportive, they are there for us, that would be helpful.”
Emphasising the impact of visible symbols of Pride, and encouraged by the confirmation from organisers that protests on podiums will be allowed at the Games, Goh says the opportunity to highlight inequality must not be lost.
“Having something like a Pride pin or band, or something like that - to be able to visually see that you are an ally or friendly - there are so many ways to let people know of the presence of LGBTQ+ people, athletes or officials,” she adds.
“Maybe it’s even just the presence of Pride House. Because honestly, just knowing that it exists makes me really happy. I just wish I could have been around competing in sport or in the Commonwealth Games to give it a go.”
Joining Goh for the conversation on the fifth episode of the podcast series are Pride House Ambassador Amazin LeThi and Malaysian activist Numan Afifi.
In Afifi’s homeland, across the border from Singapore, homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment and strictly enforced under sections of the Penal Code 1936, inherited from the British and retained by Malaysia since it won independence in 1957.
Last year, amendments to existing sharia law that would clamp down on social media users who celebrated Pride month were proposed by a Malaysian government taskforce.
Afifi, a community organiser who founded the Pelangi campaign for LGBTQ+ rights as well as youth support group Jejaka, says the situation is worsening as a snap election looms.
“The government has not done anything to curtail hate speech even though they say that Malaysia upholds human rights,” he explains on the podcast.
“Now going into the election which is happening soon, we’re seeing more hate speech, and most of it is perpetrated by politicians.
“Outside of criminalisation, there will be people who take it upon themselves [to act against LGBTQ+ people], when they’re seeing that the government is not doing anything.
“They hear all this rhetoric and they will feel that they need to do something about it.”
LeThi, whose advocacy work has taken her around the world advising Fortune 500 companies as well as organisations like the UN, says there is limited awareness in western nations of the discrimination and cultural pressures faced by Asian people who are LGBTQ+.
She says sport is an ideal vehicle with which to kick-start dialogue about inclusion, and wants to build on the momentum generated in particular by the Olympics being held in Tokyo and Beijing within the last 12 months.
“There are still so many steps we need to stake,” she says. “We’ve had this amazing opportunity recently, with so many major sports events throughout different parts of Asia, to shine the light.
“Because really, talking about Asian athletes and LGBTQ+ rights in Asia is not usually top of people’s minds in the West. They need a hook, and major sports events have been our biggest hook.”
As part of the programming at Pride House Birmingham, there will be an extensive exhibition detailing the situation with regards to LGBTQ+ rights in each of the nations sending teams to compete at the Games.
The venue in the heart of Birmingham’s Gay Village is due to open to the public on Friday, July 22. A busy schedule of performances, activities, panel discussions and educational sessions is being drawn up.
Meanwhile, for the first time in Games history, Pride House will also have a presence in the Athletes’ Villages, offering information and advice related to LGBTQ+ inclusion for all at safe and welcoming ‘drop-in’ centres.
To access the Pride House Podcast, and also listen to the first four episodes in the series, go to: https://podfollow.com/the-pride-house-podcast
Quotes from Episode 5 - more available on request
“I came out in the national papers [in Singapore] in 2017 but let’s not be mistaken, I was never in the closet! That’s my point of privilege - I’ve never had to say I’m something I’m not. After 2016 when I got my Rio bronze medal, I started getting a lot more publicity, but I felt very uncomfortable with the spotlight mainly being on my sport and my sporting achievements and maybe my disability. So then I used that opportunity, I thought ‘OK now you’ve turned the light on me, I’m going to tell you everything about myself!’ I never would have expected it come out in the national papers, honestly. I’m really glad I was given the chance to do it. I had fear but it was unfounded fear. All I got was support.”
“We have to have more public discussions around being Asian and LGBTQ+ in sports. It’s not just about Asian athletes in Asia not coming out - we have like less than 10 in the West! Think about our last Olympics - how many out Asian athletes did the Western countries send? Probably zero to one. So we have to have these broad discussions, and the Commonwealth Games is the perfect platform - it’s going to be in Birmingham which is in probably the most multicultural city in the UK, with a very high Asian population.”
“Sports personalities are huge within Malaysia and they need to come out and support - someone has to. It’s not just in sports, as there are media personalities who are always associating themselves with the LGBTQ+ community in their productions, in their shows, but when it comes to rights, they take a step back. Athletes need to show that they are allies so that it will be easier for LGBTQ+ athletes to come out and feel accepted within their fields.”
Theresa Goh is a two-time Commonwealth Games athlete (pic by Douglas Ho)
Amazin LeThi is an in-demand speaker and an expert in ED&I
Notes for Editors
A Pride House is a welcoming hub devoted to inclusion and culture that is established at a sporting event. Visitors include competing athletes, fans and spectators, VIPs, and people fulfilling other roles in the event itself. A busy programme of activities, performances, screenings and entertainment is supplemented by viewing opportunities of live sport.
At Birmingham 2022, and for the first time in Commonwealth Games history, Pride House Birmingham will be fully integrated, ensuring wider awareness of its ‘Celebrate, Participate, Educate’ ethos and programme.
‘The Pride House Podcast’ is an independent production from Pride House Birmingham, with support from Sports Media LGBT+.
The Pride House Podcast’ on Podfollow - https://podfollow.com/the-pride-house-podcast
Pride House Birmingham - https://pridehousebham.org.uk/
Pride House Birmingham featured on the official Birmingham 2022 website - https://www.birmingham2022.com/news/2556327/pride-house-birmingham-will-explore-diversity-across-the-commonwealth
Article about Pride House Podcast Episode 5 on Sports Media LGBT+ website - https://sportsmedialgbt.com/people-with-privilege-should-use-it-theresa-goh-tells-pride-house-podcast-of-need-to-lift-voices-for-lgbtq-rights-at-commonwealth-games
Pride House International - http://www.pridehouseinternational.org/
Twitter - https://twitter.com/PrideHouseBham
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/pridehousebham/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/PrideHouseBham
Contacts available for interview
Jon Holmes, podcast host and Pride House Birmingham team member