In honour of Pride Month, which kicked off here in Toronto on June 1 and will culminate with the Pride Parade on June 25, I would like to voice my support through a sport I love and one which most people would not connect to the Pride movement.
This is Gareth Thomas’s story. For many of us in North America, we will not be familiar with his name. But make no mistake, Gareth is a larger-than-life figure, literally and figuratively.
Gareth is a national hero. He is one of the greatest rugby players Wales has ever produced. He is also someone who lived a lie for decades on the global stage – in front of fans, beside friends, surrounded by family – not because he was an evil person or wished harm upon others.
Because he was afraid.
Because he did not want to disappoint a wife he had been married to for five years.
Because he did not want to let down 3 million people who considered him the Welsh incarnation of Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky put together.
Because he was human and, therefore, fallible.
But, mostly, because he was afraid.
He attempted to take his own life several times after his wife left him in 2006. But Gareth Thomas persevered. He arose from the ashes of a shattered marriage, at a time when he later reflected, “I missed her so badly, and hated myself for what I had inflicted on her.”
And like the steamroller-cum-phoenix he was on the pitch, Gareth Thomas found the courage – somehow and in some inconceivable way – to live the life he wanted to live. And the crowning glory to this all was not the records he broke along the way, nor the winning tries, nor the century-strong caps, nor the adulation he earned from scores of die-hard rugby enthusiasts around the world.
It was the support, nay, the love shown to him by his legion of fans, the same fans who stood shoulder to shoulder with him as their God of Rugby gave them “something so simple as honesty” to rally behind on his terms.
Pride Month has become more than a flashy parade, at least in Toronto, that is. It’s about acceptance, honesty, tolerance, friendship, love, equality, and the right to be proud of qualities that celebrate empathy and compassion, and the same traits which make us more humane as individuals and stronger as a society.
On June 25, let us all be loud, let us all be proud.