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Top English rugby referee Craig Maxwell-Keys comes out as gay

A top English rugby referee has used the Rainbow Laces campaign to come out as gay.

Exeter Chiefs v Bristol Bears - Premiership Rugby Cup
Rugby referee Craig Maxwell-Keys working a match in England in 2019.
Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images

Craig Maxwell-Keys, a top rugby referee in England who also does international matches, has come out publicly as gay in an interview with the BBC.

Maxwell-Keys, 29, came out as part of the Rainbow Laces campaign, a yearly British event where athletes in various sports wear rainbow laces to symbolize LGBTQ equality in sports.

The referee first came out to his family on WhatsApp in 2016.

“You could say it’s modern day,” said the 29-year-old, speaking to the BBC’s LGBT Sports Podcast. “I sent a WhatsApp message at 6 a.m. before I was due to go on a family holiday to Greece.

”I then turned the phone off and didn’t turn it on again for a good couple of hours. Then after a few too many wines in Greece, I read the messages back.

”It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but all the messages were really positive and supportive.”

Over the next two years he came out to people in rugby, including other officials and other referees. One official got him in touch with Nigel Owens, one the best rugby referees in the world, who had come out as gay a few years earlier.

“I can’t sing as well as Nigel can, I certainly can’t dance as well as Nigel can and I’m definitely not as funny as Nigel is, so there are a lot of differences!” says Maxwell-Keys. ...

”Nigel had some good words of advice and support, which I was really grateful for at the time and still am.”

Maxwell-Keys hopes to keep rising up the referee ranks and officiated his first international match last year between the USA and Romania. He knows he has the full support of people in the sport and that being gay won’t be a barrier.

”If you’re good enough, you’ll get to whatever level you aspire to,” he said. “That’s what matters and not necessarily who you love or your gender or anything like that, it’s purely at the top end about ‘are you good enough.’”