Last December, Manchester City and English national soccer player Demi Stokes came out publicly without even using the words “coming out.”
In an instagram post announcing that she was expecting her first child, Stokes uploaded a picture of silver balloons spelling out the word “BABY” along with an ultrasound. Then in the caption, she tagged her partner Katie Harrington.
For an elite-level athlete used to living life in the public eye, it was a remarkably subtle coming out story—the kind that, upon first glance, would make some of her fans ask, “Wait, did she just…?”
By doing so, Stokes illustrated a few of the differences in the pressure facing LGBTQ athletes in men’s and women’s soccer.
“It’s about being comfortable with yourself,” Stokes said to The Guardian. “And the men’s game is very different, there’s a lot of taboo there. You can see there are players that are starting to come out and the more players that do that does encourage the next person. It’s obviously a slow process but within our [women’s] game, we welcome everyone and that’s good.”
In other words, the widespread acceptance of LGBTQ athletes throughout women’s soccer made it possible for Stokes to come out publicly in such an understated manner.
That’s a luxury that was not afforded players like Josh Cavallo or Jake Daniels who, because of their status as barrier breakers in the men’s game, were subjected to more media and public scrutiny from the moment they came out.
Stokes, by contrast, admitted that coming out was “honestly not something I gave too much thought to. It was just about: ‘I’m Demi and I’m authentic.’ I didn’t do the post to say, ‘I’m gay, I’m here, I’ve arrived.’ It was more just that I openly spoke about my partner and that’s it. That’s how it should be. If you’re going out with a boy, a girl, it doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t change anything.”
The couple’s son Harlen was born two months ago and like any proud mother, Stokes has posted several adorable infant pics to her Instagram. From the sound of things, he’s already a major hit with her teammates.
“The girls have been great,” she said. “I think he’s going to be very spoilt with a lot of aunties around. He’s a very lucky boy to have all the people that he has around him.”
Those people include a soccer playing mom who was able to come out in such a confident and comfortable manner.