Meet Phil Forder
When I was at comprehensive school the most dreaded period of the week was always the ‘sports’ lesson which in all honesty was something that I feared and loathed. During primary school physical education had been called games which I actually didn’t mind, playing games was fun.
However, once in the big school everything changed for the worse. Moving to the much larger comprehensive was daunting enough in itself but combined with an awakening sexuality and the realisation that I was different from the other boys was scary. I was gay and to my horror, nobody else seemed to be -although in such a large school with 600 plus pupils there must obviously have been others. Their absence illustrates the inherent culture of fear at that time
I grew up in Essex and the year I went to secondary school was 1964 at the height of Beatle mania, the pill and the so-called sexual revolution. This revolution, however,did not apply to being gay and homosexuality was not only a dirty word but was also illegal.
This was a fearful and very lonely time. I once, very tactfully in the third person, tried to discuss being gay with my mother whilst drying the dishes. She was horrified and told me that ‘those people went to hell’. She had God on her side and as such I didn’t stand a chance. I decided as a result to clam up and become a ‘pretend’ straight.
There were many times this was put to the test and the gym classes at school were some of the most challenging. The sports department was run by three gym teachers who were all ex military and who seemed to think that sport was a by word for bullying. At that particular time the most commonly used insults on the street were ‘poof’ and ‘queer’. I remember one very overweight boy who used to do everything he could to avoid sport, on one occasion forgot to bring his kit with him (probably deliberately). As a result he was forced to do gymnastics in his badly fitting underpants that kept falling down but not before being bawled at by the staff in front of the entire class. The teacher called him ‘a lazy Poof’, which the other boys thought was hilarious. How times have changed! I, although not overweight, was not good at anything sporty and so spent most of my time trying to be invisible.
Within the sports department the changing rooms were probably the worst places to be. It was here the worst bullying took place. I hated having to get undressed in front of everyone else and changed as fast as I could. I felt not only literally naked and exposed but extremely vulnerable as well. The showers were even worse, I often would sit all day in class, unshowered , smelling to high heaven , rather than go in there with the other boys.
These dreadful experiences happened twice a week over a period of five years. There was a huge sense of relief when the lesson was over which was replaced immediately by the loathing for the next one looming up.
As a result I have had an aversion for sport all my life, even though I consider myself a free thinking adult and can see and understand all the positive benefits that sport can bring. Living through years of homophobia during a very impressionable period of one’s life is hard to just undo.
Times have definitely changed for the better. Not only has the law changed but so too has the way sport and exercise have become more inclusive and are not just the domain of the fit-alpha-white males of this world.
I think, that despite all the positive legislation and policy going through, that Sport needs to make a special effort to welcome all LGB and T individuals who have been victims of discrimination, as I know first hand that years of fear do prevent many from getting past the front door. You can’t just change a law and Hey Presto! suddenly everything is OK. We need to do something more.
I work in the prison service and am committed to making the establishment less homophobic. Surprisingly, the department I find myself working most actively within the jail, is the Gym. I would never have thought that possible a few years back and have often wondered how this has come about in view of everything that has happened.
The gym instructors I work with today share nothing, apart from sport, with my old teachers. They influence by example and recognise the damage caused by hatred in all its forms -be it homophobia, racism or anything else.
They are genuinely good people. Sounds very glib but its true and its important that instructors live the values that legal systems have put in place and not just pay lip-service to them. By making an effort to be inclusive we can’t undo the past and wave a magic wand, but we can try and open doors and maybe make a special effort to encourage those who have been ostracised to take part.
I am very positive about the future and the way things are moving forward. The LGB and T Sport network, of which I am proud to be a member, is actively succeeding in trail-blazing change. It is very healing to see so many people working together wanting inclusivity and working towards it.I know it is progressing in the right direction because as a result I do believe I have actually become less ‘sports-phobic’ myself.