Rugby star Keegan Hirst tackles homophobia during school visit
Rugby League star Keegan Hirst switched codes for the day to help train youngsters at the Crossley Heath School in Halifax - and to tackle bullying head-on.
Towering Batley Bulldogs skipper Keegan is currently the only openly-gay professional in the sport, having ‘come out’ last year.
And the 27-year-old took to the pitch with Crossley Heath’s under-14 union side to stand-up to homophobia as part of the newly-launched Schools Diversity Week, a nationwide campaign organised by leading UK charity Just Like Us.
For Keegan, it was a chance to put the lads through their paces while also exploring attitudes surrounding masculinity.
He said: “When I was at school, I was the fat kid with goofy teeth and ginger hair.
“I was rubbish at football and only began to truly find myself when I started playing rugby.
“The idea of coming out back then would have been terrifying.
“But we’ve got to get past this ‘lads’ culture, where youngsters are trying to prove their masculinity by being big and tough, considering themselves a ‘real man’.
“Because there are many ways to prove yourself a man.
“It’s about stepping-in when you see someone else getting bullied. And it’s about being brave enough to tell the bully they’re wrong.”
Keegan was invited to speak at the school by assistant head Glyn Hirst, who organised a raft of events during the week leading up to Friday’s ‘Diversity Day’, many of which were filmed by an ITV film crew.
Mr Hirst said: “We take a very positive approach to diversity in our school and encourage all our students to challenge any form of prejudice.
“Keegan’s visit will confirm to our boys that they can stand up for themselves and for each other.
“I am proud to be part of a school which takes such a pro-active approach in dealing with homophobia.”
During Keegan’s training session, the under-14s all wore rainbow-coloured shoelaces provided by the charity Stonewall, whose slogan is ‘stamp out homophobia in sport’ and of which Keegan is an ambassador.
Batley-born Keegan added: “For these lads, it probably means nothing.
“But to me, and to countless others in the UK, it means so much because it represents awareness and acceptance.”