Wales’ Jess Fishlock says football helped her with struggles as a gay teenager

England Women v Wales Women – FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 – UEFA Qualifier – Group A – St Mary’s Stadium
(Image credit: John Walton)

Wales’ most capped player Jess Fishlock has spoken of how football helped her navigate her struggles as a gay teenager and the importance of there being “visibility” for young people.

The 34-year-old midfielder, who in 2018 was awarded an MBE for her services to the game and the LGBT community, began her career with her native Cardiff.

Speaking on ‘The Game Changers’ podcast, Fishlock – holder of over 100 caps – said of her teenage self: “I was gay at the time and I didn’t really know how to navigate through that. That was very difficult.

Fishlock in 2018 was awarded an MBE for her services to the game and the LGBT community (John Walton/PA).

Fishlock in 2018 was awarded an MBE for her services to the game and the LGBT community (John Walton/PA).

“You didn’t talk about it. It didn’t exist. Everything was underground.

“And then, that’s where football comes in for me, because it was a very safe space. I would go train twice a week and I would be surrounded by people who were very visible to me, very understanding and just made me kind of feel like it was OK … that being gay was OK, which was great.

“It was a very, very safe space for me, sport was. It really helped me find my own identity, but also navigate through the other aspects of my life that I was finding very difficult.”

Fishlock said that, having come out to her family when she was 15 or 16, she later decided to do so publicly feeling “I don’t want anybody to go through what I went through … and I want there to be visibility specifically in Wales because there just isn’t enough for the youth.”

Fishlock is on loan at Reading from OL Reign (Nick Potts/PA).

Fishlock is on loan at Reading from OL Reign (Nick Potts/PA).

When asked about gay role models, she said: “The lack of visibility and the fact that when I was growing up, the LGBTQ community was just completely underground, forced underground … when that’s the situation, then you generally do grow up thinking that who you are and what you do is wrong.

“It’s not wrong at all, but that’s how you’re made to feel. And so I just – I didn’t want that any more.”

Fishlock is currently on loan at Reading from American outfit OL Reign, who she has been with since 2013.

One of her Reign team-mates is Megan Rapinoe, and Fishlock said of the United States star: “Sharing the locker room with her is such an honour, not only because she is an incredible player and athlete, but who she is as kind of a person is just great.

Megan Rapinoe is a team-mate of Fishlock's at Reign (PA).

Megan Rapinoe is a team-mate of Fishlock’s at Reign (PA).

“What she wants in social justice and against racism and the LGBTQ community and youth, everything that she fights for is basically for other people.”

She added: “We do have a platform. We’re not just footballers and we can help create change. I’d never have the platform that Megan has, but it’s not about that. It’s just about trying to create change for other people who don’t have a voice ultimately. And so, yeah, I tried to do my best to do that whenever it’s possible.”

Fishlock also said a future role in politics is something she has considered.

She said: “I think the older I get, the more I realised that I do want to go into politics of some kind or definitely into a role that can be more active and kind of life-changing with regard to policies and things like that.

“There’s definitely something in me that wants to go into the policy-changing kind of world and shake people by their heads and, you know, a little flick on the back of their ear, but we’ll see.”

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