Retired Olympic athlete Kelly Holmes came out this past June in honor of Pride. “There have been lots of dark times where I wished I could scream that I am gay – but I couldn’t,” she told The Mirror at the time. Throughout her life, Holmes has had to battle social stigma and government-sanctioned homophobia, and months after publicly coming out, she is still unpacking the trauma of the closet.
In a recent appearance on ITV talk show Loose Women, Holmes opened up about how the closet affected her romances. As the hosts spoke on the topic of being in love, Holmes said, “I’ve had different circumstances as I wasn’t out, so my relationships have been… I didn’t know how to meet people or how I would ever meet a gay woman as I couldn’t publicly do it.
“I would circumstantially meet people through friends and convince myself they’re right as I didn’t want to be lonely. And then I would think: ‘Nah, no way. I would think if I got too attached they would want us to go public.’”
In her conversation with The Mirror, Holmes took great pains to illustrate the many pressures to stay in the closet. Describing her adolescence in Hildenborough, Kent, she said, “It was an era where the stigma of homosexuality was really bad because of the AIDS epidemic. I didn’t have any role models in anything like that. And back then, school sex education was nothing to do with being gay.”
In her twenties, Holmes joined the British Army, where she had to contend with the government’s purging of gay officers. She recalled a time when the Royal Military Police conducted a search on her home. “They pulled everything out of your cupboard, turned out the beds and drawers, read letters – everything – trying to catch us out, so we could be arrested, court-martialled and potentially go to jail,” she said.
“It’s humiliating, it’s degrading – it feels disrespectful when you’re serving your country and you’re doing a good job. You feel violated, treated like you’re some massive villain.”
Holmes eventually came out to her family in 1997. “I was in bits about telling them,” she said. “But they said they knew anyway. No one’s ever had a problem. They don’t know me any different.”
Despite the support from her family, the shame and paranoia the military had instilled in her persisted, even as she became a world-renowned Olympic athlete—earning gold medals at Athens in 2004, breaking records for middle distance running, and even being made a dame.
All the same, she kept her secret. “I’d think, ‘No one talks about it in the sport, how do I suddenly say I’m gay?’” she said. “‘I can’t because I’m admitting that I broke the law in the Army.’”
But now at 52, Holmes is publicly out, and the difference in her romantic life is night and day. She now has a partner, of whom she proudly says, “It’s the first time I’ve had someone who I don’t introduce as a PA or friend.”
Help make sure LGBTQ+ stories are being told...
We can't rely on mainstream media to tell our stories. That's why we don't lock our articles behind a paywall. Will you support our mission with a contribution today?
Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated
Read More in Culture
The Latest on INTO
Subscribe to get a twice-weekly dose of queer news, updates, and insights from the INTO team.
in Your Inbox