British Olympic champion Dame Kelly Homes has come out as gay at the age of 52.
The double gold medal winner told the Sunday Mirror she first realised she was gay as a 17-year-old soldier after a female colleague kissed her.
But a fear of being court marshalled when same-sex relationships were banned in the forces led her to stay silent.
However, Dame Kelly said the pandemic and a brush with Covid made her realise it was time to show the world her “real self”. During her 35-year silence, she battled with breakdowns, suicidal thoughts and years of self-harm.
“There have been lots of dark times where I wished I could scream that I am gay – but I couldn’t,” she told the newspaper.
Now feeling “free”, Dame Kelly said she was happy to be coming out on her own terms.
“I needed to do this now, for me. It was my decision. I’m nervous about saying it. I feel like I’m going to explode with excitement,” she said.
“Sometimes I cry with relief. The moment this comes out, I’m essentially getting rid of that fear.”
Dame Kelly said her family and close friends have known about her sexuality for years but she was “convinced throughout my whole life that if I admitted to being gay in the Army I’d still be in trouble”.
Dame Kelly said has been in a relationship for a while but plans to keep details of her partner private. She added: “It’s the first time I’ve had someone who I don’t introduce as a PA or friend.”
The retired athlete said fame and life in the public eye also made it harder for her to come out.
She added said that while growing up, the “stigma of homosexuality” due to the Aids epidemic made it harder to reveal the truth. She added that school sex education at the time also “was nothing to do with being gay”.
It was after she joined the Women’s Royal Army Corps in 1988 when a fellow soldier kissed her that things changed. Describing the moment, Dame Kelly said it felt “more natural” and she “felt comfortable”.
“Confused” and “scared”, she wrote a letter to her stepdad explaining what had happened, and he was immediately accepting.
During her 10 years in the army, the Olympian secretly dated other female soldiers, risking court martial if they got caught.
“There was this pub that had a back dance floor and a pool table and everyone we knew was gay used to go to this place. You could be yourself, then come back to your barracks,” she said as she shared how her quarters were searched by Royal Military Police in a check she believes was to uncover who was a lesbian.
She described the experience as “humiliating” and “degrading”, adding: “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.
“Those moments stuck with me because I didn’t want to lose my job, I loved it. But I felt the law was wrong.”
After experiencing a mental breakdown in 2020, she contacted a military LGBTQ+ leader to ask if she could still face sanctions for her army relationships. She was assured that she would not.