OPINION: Formula 1 has raced beyond its old homophobia

by Matt Bishop | W Series
Monday, 3 August 2020 08:07 GMT

Lewis Hamilton and Matt Bishop in the Formula 1 paddock at the Budapest circuit during the 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix weekend. Credit: LAT / Motorsport Images

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

I am no longer "the only gay in the village" in motor racing

 Matt Bishop is the communications director of W Series, a single-seater motor racing championship for female drivers. “The Boy Made the Difference” by Matt Bishop will be published on August 28

This article contains words that some readers might find offensive

When I arrived in Formula 1 as editor of the unimaginatively but transparently titled “F1 Racing” magazine the best part of a quarter-century ago, I was very much the only gay in the F1 village. Yes, the travelling F1 circus must have been peopled by other LGBT+ villagers, but, if it was, they were all closeted.

Yes, all.

Did I encounter homophobia? I expected to. I was warned that I would. But I did not. On the contrary, perhaps helped by “F1 Racing” then being the world’s best-selling motorsport magazine, I was treated by even the sport’s grandees, including its drivers, with courtesy and respect. I began to make friends in F1, many friends, good friends, firm friends, friends still, despite it having been described by the McLaren team’s legendary boss, Ron Dennis, as “the piranha club”.

But there is always an exception that proves any rule, and so it was that, a few years into my time in F1, I learned that one of the drivers had taken to referring to me routinely as “that fat faggot”.

I could not and did not argue with the facts of the matter – I was a chubby gay man – but it upset me. I was gratified to find that it upset my friends too, one of whom, another driver, at a Barcelona test session marched up to the driver concerned and said, “You may think you’re making Matt Bishop look like a c***, but in actual fact the only person you’re making look like a c*** is yourself.”

For the avoidance of doubt, I have lost weight since those days, but my attraction to men has not waned.

The F1 circus is a petri dish of gossip, and so it was that soon tongues were wagging about “faggot-gate” all the way from Ferrari to Minardi. But, much more heartening, I began to receive emails from mechanics and engineers in a number of the F1 teams, asking me for advice: “I could never be open about my sexuality – the other bolters [mechanics] would go apeshit”; “I’m living a lie and it’s eating me up”; “I wish I could come out – how ever did you dare?”; and many more. I replied to everyone. I still get the odd such email even now.

But I am no longer the only gay in our village. We are a small minority, but we support one another, and we encourage LGBT+ mechanics, engineers, marketers, PR people, journalists, photographers, TV crew and indeed drivers to be themselves, to be out, to be proud. I am an ambassador of Racing Pride, which was developed in collaboration with Stonewall and was launched in June 2019, whose goal is to promote LGBT+ inclusivity in motorsport.

I worked for the McLaren F1 team for 10 years and I am now the communications director of W Series, the new motor racing championship for female drivers. Diversity and inclusion are pillars of our mission. Two of our 20 drivers are lesbians, Abbie Eaton and Sarah Moore, and both are also Racing Pride ambassadors. They are quick, too.

The driver who called me a fat faggot many years ago has long retired.

Motorsport people are much more libertarian now than they were then. Racing Pride has been encouraged and embraced. I have written a novel, my first, and it has nothing to do with motorsport. It is called “The Boy Made the Difference”.

It is set against the narrative backdrop of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It contains quite a bit of gay sex, although it is far from being erotica. Many F1 villagers, including middle-aged straight men, have told me how much they are looking forward to reading it, utterly unfazed by its subject matter.

We have come a long way.

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