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Openly gay jockey finds niche in horse racing and had a fling as a drag queen

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Gay jockey Jack Duern says he has found acceptance in his sport and he uses drag as an outlet.

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Doncaster Races
Jack Duern has 21 wins as an apprentice jockey,
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

It’s been more than four years since apprentice jockey Jack Duern came out as gay and the English rider says the sport has become more accepting.

“If you are not out, you always think the worst of everything,” Duern said this week on the British horse racing podcast “My Pod or Yours.” You think that people aren’t going to accept you. But it’s really not that bad. You can be yourself and work in the industry.”

Duern, 24, came out on Twitter late in 2014, tweeting, “Yes I’m a jockey and yes I’m gay. Sorry I forgot this was illegal haha.” He followed up with an interview a year later with the Racing Post.

He said he immediately lost rides from older, conservative trainers who frowned on his being openly gay.

“I am the only out jockey in the UK for a reason,” Duern said in a 2018 interview with Winq magazine and reprinted on the Racing Silks Club blog. “Three years ago I did an interview with the Racing Post, and I lost so many rides off the older trainers who stopped using me as soon as they read about my sexuality. I was gutted.

“I had had quite a few wins on one horse, but after the feature I wasn’t allowed to ride it anymore. I was told that the owners ‘didn’t agree’ with what I’d said in the Racing Post. I was angry, but I knew it was something I couldn’t change, so I just thought ‘your loss.’ ’’

Lingfield Races
Jack Duern, right, rides Spring Romance to a win in The Remembering Nathan Armstrong Handicap Stakes in Lingfield, England, in 2018.
Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Duern, who has 21 career wins, said there are other gay jockeys in the sport but that they are reluctant to come out. This despite saying on the podcast that “pretty much all of the jockeys were fine with [his being gay]. They don’t really care about it.”

Duern is happily in a relationship with Simon Reid, of whom he says: “How can one person make you feel so special?”

After coming out publicly, Deurn discovered drag, as he detailed in in the Winq article:

It was during this time off that Jack also discovered another of his many talents — drag. ‘I worked in a club in Birmingham where every year they have an annual drag night where the bar staff would dress up and perform. My friend dressed me up and was like, ‘Wow, you should actually do this,’ so then I started dressing up from friends birthdays and performing now and again.’

From there, Coco Demol was born — an Amy Winehouse tribute act can be seen making appearances at Soho’s Halfway to Heaven. ‘I love how it lets you be a completely different persona. You can say what you want and not be judged for it because being a drag queen is all about being sassy and fierce.’

Racing and drag, however, aren’t always compatible. ‘If I’m performing on a Sunday and I have to race on a Monday, getting the temporary tattoos off can be a nightmare,’ he says. ‘I have to get a scourer and cover it in shampoo to get them off.

I once left a bit on my neck before and one of the jockeys asked me about my new tattoo. I panicked and said that it wasn’t finished yet. When I saw him again without it, I had to casually pretend that I’d had it removed!’

Alas, I could find no images of Duern as Coco, but it’s cool that he is able to show both his athletic and artistic sides.

Update: Coco is no more. After this story appeared, Duern wrote me: “The drag part of my life is now over :-)”

You can follow Duern on Twitter and Instagram.