The child wants to help educate people and encourage respect
Super League referee James Child has never spoken publicly about his sexuality – but this is not his “coming out” story.
It’s been a long time since Child was ‘in’ – with his family, friends and fellow referees who all know he’s gay.
In an exclusive interview for the BBC’s LGBT sports podcast, Child has become one of the most recognizable names in the rugby league for learning about being gay.
“It’s better to be who you are and feel good about who you are,” he says.
The 37-year-old Child was named Super League Referee by the Rugby Football League (RFL) in 2010 and directed the 2017 Grand Final at Old Trafford.
“The way I’ve lived my life on social media, I’m pretty open to the fact that I have a male partner,” he says.
“I don’t necessarily send it out, I just live my life normally, and so I’ve made up my mind to deal with it. And in many ways my sexuality and my job are completely separate and irrelevant.
“When I run out there and make a decision, it doesn’t matter if I’m gay or straight. What matters is whether the decision is right or wrong.”
“If this helps educate others, that’s great.”
The child’s decision to talk about their sexuality depends on a number of factors.
There is still more than a month to go before the new Super League season starts, which means he can share his story without worrying about it overshadowing the action on the pitch.
But there is also another problem.
Like many elite officials, Child is often mistreated – including by a homophobic nature.
“I’m getting my fair share, including some death threats referred to the police in recent years,” he says.
“I’m not saying that all of this has to do with my sexuality, but I certainly think one, if not two of them were homophobic.”
The child says he also received homophobic abuse during games that were “specifically directed against him” and not against other officials or players.
“If I speak about it publicly, there can’t be a situation where someone is homophobic but denies that I’m gay,” he says.
“I’m not denying people the opportunity to go to a game and yell at me as the referee. Definitely do it! Go on! I’m used to it!
“But when you start incorporating religion, disability, or sexual orientation, we don’t need that level of personalization.
“If that helps educate people and get us all to be a little more respectful of one another, then that’s great.”
“I was blown away by my grandma’s reaction.”
The child admits that, like many people in the LGBT + community, they took the time to deal with their sexuality.
“As I got older, I felt more comfortable with it,” he says.
“If this gives other people a little courage to speak to their families, friends, or work colleagues, then just do it.
“I’ve never had a bad reaction to telling anyone, and I’ve made it worse than, in some ways, it actually was.
“I was blown away by the way my grandma reacted, for example. She didn’t open an eyelid! She said, ‘As long as you’re happy, I still love you.'”
“It will be great to be out there again.”
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Child has had a pretty typical lockdown experience.
There was baking, watching TV, lots of long walks with his dog, and a new addition to the family in the form of Pearl – a kitten that Child and his partner rescued from the curb at the start of the first lock.
But like anyone involved in elite sport, the referee strives to return to normal form.
“It was strange last year when we started refereeing behind closed doors,” he said.
“Those moments when you step out of the tunnel and hear the music play but not hear the noise of people are very strange.
“It won’t feel normal until we have fans back and hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later, but it will still be great to be out there again.”