Pride and Para Sports - by Stacey Denyer | Every Body Moves

Pride and Para Sports - by Stacey Denyer

Stacey Denyer - Dressed in red Invictus Games polo shirt, looking at the camera and smiling. Superimposed over Progress Flag.

Stacey Denyer is member of the Every Body Moves Lived Experience Advisory Board, an RAF veteran, an Invictus Games athlete, and an openly gay married woman living with multiple sclerosis. As part of Pride Month 2023, Stacey tells us in her own words  what Pride means to her as disabled sportsperson.

I have two main sport passions; indoor rowing and powerlifting.

Stacey Denyer - Pictured lying on a weights bench in an indoor gym environment, holding a laden bar bell, resting across her chest. She has 3 people spotting, 1 behind her head and 1 either side of the bar bell. Other People are stood around watching.

Both of which I have competed in as non-disabled and more recently as an adaptive / para-athlete. I have lived with Multiple Sclerosis & Osteoarthritis for a while, and although it brings fatigue, nerve pain, a weak bladder, and the knees of a person 30 years my senior amongst other things, it also gave me a choice... accept what was happening or adopt more of a ‘can do’ attitude.’ I chose the latter, which I want to share to inspire others to be as active as they can, whilst they still can. 

I’m privileged to feel like I am in a safe space to admit ‘Hey, I’m struggling,’ when it comes to my mental health (which a high proportion of disabled people do) and be supported by friends, family, and colleagues. I find that training in the gym lifting weights, at home on my rowing machine, or outside on my bike resets me and leaves me feeling good.  

I’m also privileged that for the most part I can be out and proud about my sexual orientation, identifying as a gay woman, or lesbian. I have no preference on either term, but some people do.

I grew up near Brighton which back in the noughties was known as the ‘LGBTQ+ Capital’ of the UK. So even for friends and family that were shocked when I ‘came out’ in my late teens, it didn’t take them long to understand and embrace that part of me. The same can't be said for everyone; Stonewall reports that only 46% of lesbian, gay or bisexual people in the UK feel they can be open about their sexual orientation and 47% of British trans people feel safe enough to be open about their gender identity to their families.  

It saddens me that other members of the LGBTQ+ community, both in the UK and overseas, don’t have the acceptance and support that I do, and this is why it is still important to celebrate Pride.

We still need Pride because there are people out there who society often prevents them from being who they truly are. It’s 2023!  

Stacey Denyer - Dressed in her blue Invictus Games athlete uniform. Using a cane while stood on a set of steps leading to a very regal looking hall, with pillared arches each side and ornate painted ceiling.

I am thankful for the generations before me for fighting to lift the military’s ‘LGB’ ban back in January 2000, paving the way for me to be proud of who I am when I joined the Royal Air Force in 2004, without fear of being dishonourably discharged due to who I love.  

I am honoured to be representing Team UK at the Invictus Games Dusseldorf in September this year, though I am mindful that being LGBTQ+ is deemed a criminal act in 66 jurisdictions and is punishable by death in 12 countries. Some of the countries where being a LGBTQ+ is criminalised will be represented at this year's Games.

In situations like this, or when I have to travel abroad with my wife, I still have to ask myself is it safe for me to hold her hand in public? Is it acceptable for me to run over post competition and give her a celebratory kiss and/or hug if I either medal or break a personal record? In Dusseldorf I know that would be ok, but it's not the same for all destinations.

When I’m still asking myself these questions whilst those in heterosexual relationships don’t have to, I know there is still a lot of work to do. 

It is important to have role models of marginalised communities, even more so when the intersectionality of multiple characteristics collide, for example being disabled and trans, or disabled, Asian and gay. To make people feel heard, safe, and accepted.  

We've come a long way in representing LGBTQ+ people in sport and disabled people in sport as two separate entities, the next step is to ensure that we connect the dots and ensure that adaptive and para sports clubs embrace disabled LGBTQ+ participants and make activities accessible to all.

If you are struggling with your sexual orientation or gender identity, you are not alone. There are many organisations that can offer help and support, so please reach out to one of the following or the many more you can find via an internet search.  

  • Stonewall -  Creating positive transformative change in the lives of LGBTQ+ people, public attitudes and public policy.

  • Kaleidoscope International trust - Fighting for the human rights of LGBTQ+ people across the Commonwealth. 

  • MindOut - UK mental health service run by and for LGBTQ+ people.

  • Galop - Supporting LGBTQ+ people who have experienced abuse and violence.

  • LGBT Foundation - National charity delivering advice, support and information services to LGBTQ+ communities.

  • Albert Kennedy Trust (akt) - Supporting LGBTQ+ young people aged 16-25 in the UK who are facing or experiencing homelessness or living in a hostile environment.

  • The Proud Trust - An LGBT+ youth charity empowering young people to be proud of who they are.

Sport specific 

  • Pride Sports - Challenging homophobia in sport and improving access to sport for LGBT+ people.

  • Out For Sport - A volunteer-run organisation helping our community unite through LGBTQ+ sport.