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Trailblazing trans woman appeared on the BBC to talk about identity. She received 1,000 horrifically abusive messages in less than an hour

Patrick Kelleher September 1, 2020
Sophie Cook trans football

Sophie Cook

Sophie Cook, who became the first trans person working in professional football in 2015, has opened up about the horrific online abuse she has endured since coming out.

Cook was working as the club photographer for AFC Bournemouth in 2015 when she came out as trans at the age of 48.

She was embraced by her club and by the wider football world – but she was bombarded with online abuse after she appeared on BBC Newsnight to talk about trans identities.

The pioneering trans woman told The Guardian that she received 1,000 abusive messages within an hour after her BBC Newsnight appearance.

“I had talked on the programme about people getting offended by different uses of gender and language and I said to the presenter there were certain people who would be offended just because I was on the show – and then they all went and proved me right,” Cook said.

While she was subjected to a torrent of online abuse, Sophie Cook was embraced by players and fans at AFC Bournemouth.

Many people would assume the world of professional football would not be welcoming to trans people – but Cook was accepted with open arms by her club when she came out.

“Since there had never been a trans person working in professional football before, this was a conversation that no one had ever even thought about, so I had no idea how they were going to react,” she said.

“The first thing they told me was that I still had a job and then Eddie Howe (the Bournemouth manager) turned around to me and said: ‘What can I do to make this easier for you?’

When people started trolling me online and giving me death threats, it was fans who stood around me and gave me support.

“You can’t expect everyone to understand straight away when you come out but, if your boss says that, that’s all you can hope for.

“It just sums up what a decent and honest human being Eddie Howe is. He was never anything but totally supportive of me during my transition.”

Cook said that the club’s players were open and accepting of her gender identity, as were fans.

“It was absolutely unbelievable the way everyone at Bournemouth reacted,” she said.

“The fans were really supportive, too. When people started trolling me online and giving me death threats, it was fans who stood around me and gave me support.”

She left the club to run in the 2017 general election for the Labour Party.

Cook left Bournemouth in 2017 to run as a Labour candidate in the general election for Shoreham and Worthing.

She came out with 21,000 votes, and managed to increase the Labour vote in the Conservative stronghold by 114 per cent. However, Cook did not win the seat.

Reflecting on the experience in 2017, Cook said she expected to get abuse from constituents because of the online abuse she had received following television appearances.

“Something unexpected happened,” Cook wrote in an article for Brighton and Hove Independent. “Instead of the abuse, I was greeted with love and support, sure there were still a few transphobic remarks online but nothing like I’d experienced previously,” she said.

“They weren’t voting for a trans woman, they were voting for Sophie Cook, they were voting for the Labour Party. They saw beyond the headlines and the things that made us different and in their way struck a massive blow for trans equality.”

More: AFC Bournemouth, BBC Newsnight, coming out, football, Labour party, sophie cook, Trans

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