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Olympic stars Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh on JK Rowling, transphobia and homophobia in sport

Lily Wakefield December 26, 2019
Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh

Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh. (Rankin/ Loyalty & Love/ Marriott Bonvoy)

Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh, Olympic Team GB gold medallists and power couple, have spoken of their concern that the “the trans community is being attacked left, right and centre”.

In 2016, the star hockey players made history as the first-ever same-sex couple to win Olympic gold medals playing on the same team. They got married in 2013, and have recently announced that they are expecting their first child.

The couple spoke to PinkNews about homophobia in sport, “aggressive” attacks on the trans community and the secret to their marriage. 

On homophobia in their industry, both Kate and Helen said they felt “lucky” to be women in sport and added that hockey was “open and welcoming”.

Kate said: “[The homophobia in sport] is particularly [aimed at] male athletes and sportsmen, but I do think female athletes get it, it’s just slightly more nuanced. But it’s certainly there.”

She recalled one of the first times she encountered it, after the 2016 Rio Olympics, when she was confronted by a homophobic taxi driver. She added that she had felt “ashamed” because she hadn’t challenged him.

She said: ” I kicked myself afterwards and I vowed from then on, as much as possible and where I can, to challenge homophobia.

“Whether it is overt and in your face, or whether it’s subtle, because they both have really detrimental effects on people.

“We see it in the suicide rates of LGBT+ people, and the discrimination and the bullying and the abuse. I don’t think it’s gotten any better, and honestly one of the downsides of social media is that it’s just amplified.”

Helen added: “It’s the little things that are said. When you’re in this community, or any group that is discriminated against, you pick up on it and you see it everywhere. It’s those little, subtle things that are constant.

“When you’re in a good place, you can challenge it a good way, but when you’re not in a good place it can build up over time and add on top of each other.”

They also discussed their concern for how the trans community is currently being treated.

Kate said: “The trans community is being attacked left, right and centre at the moment… I don’t feel like there’s any room for healthy conversation, it’s really aggressive and it’s there to agitate.”

She added: “You should treat a person the way they want to be treated, use the pronouns that they want to use, I think that’s really important.”

Yesterday, Harry Potter author JK Rowling voiced her support for a woman who pursued legal action to have “gender-critical views” protected under the UK Equalities Act.

“The conversation recently around Maya Forstater, who JK Rowling came out in support of, I just feel like there’s no sense of ‘I’m going to sit down and talk to some people, I’m going to talk to some trans men and trans women, I’m going to try and listen to their experience and try to understand where they’re coming from.'”

Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh
Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh. (Rankin/ Loyalty & Love/ Marriott Bonvoy)

Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh said playing hockey together was hard but it made them “stronger”.

Working with your spouse can be challenging, the couple said, and while their careers put some strain on their relationship it ultimately made them “stronger”.

Kate said: “We’ve had some difficult moments because we worked together and we were in a relationship together, we never put work down.

“We were obsessed with trying to get ourselves and our team to this goal that we’d set ourselves. We brought work home with us and we never put it down, and as a result our relationship at times suffered.”

Helen said: “It’s making time for each other and it’s something we had to learn to do. We weren’t very good at it from the start, when hockey was all-consuming.”

Asked what the secret was to their 11-year relationship, Kate told PinkNews: “Of course we share all the happy and good times but we’re not afraid of being vulnerable and sharing the fears that we have.

“That’s probably something that has strengthened our relationship over time, and has definitely helped when we’ve been going through difficult times. The willingness to be honest and talk to each other is key.”

Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh were featured in the “Love and Loyalty” campaign for Marriott Bonvoy, a travel programme by Marriott International, shot by British photographer Rankin. 

Kate said: “It was something lovely that we could do together… Campaigns like this need to be representative of the general public, and LGBT+ is strongly part of that.”

More: gold medal, helen richardson-walsh, hockey, kate richardson-walsh, rio olympics 2016, Team GB

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