‘Every person has a right to be who they want to be’: How Racing Pride champions LGBTQ+ inclusivity

On the 54th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, BlackBook Motorsport chats to Matt Bishop, founder ambassador of Racing Pride, about how the organisation is seeking to drive change in a sport severely lacking in diversity.

Racing Pride was created in 2019 in association with Stonewall, the largest LGBTQ+ rights organisation in Europe.

Fittingly, today is the 54th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, widely considered as a watershed moment in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States that inspired similar movements around the world.

Matt Bishop has a wealth of experience as the former communications director at McLaren Racing and Aston Martin in Formula One, while he was also part of the original senior leadership team at the all-female W Series. Now, as one of the founders of Racing Pride, he is seeking to make the world of motorsport more welcoming for the LGBTQ+ community.

Racing Pride, which counts the likes of European Sports Prototype Cup driver Richard Morris and former W Series drivers Abbie Eaton and Sarah Moore among its ambassadors, states on its website that its goal is to ‘positively promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity within the motorsport industry and among its technological and commercial partners’.

Progress has been tangible, too. The organisation has worked closely with Bishop’s former team Aston Martin since 2021, while Red Bull recently announced it was partnering with Racing Pride to ensure that internal policies and communications were in line with the team’s ambition to be a truly inclusive workplace.

Barriers to entry exist in all walks of life, but there are few places where they are more obvious than in the world of motorsport. As an openly gay man who has worked in and around motorsport for almost 30 years, Bishop is well placed to discuss how isolating the Formula One paddock can be for those not perceived to fit with societal norms.

The 60-year-old also recently announced his return to full-time work through the creation of his own agency, Diagonal Communications, which is backed by London-based sports and esports acquisition, development and project management company Kimura Performance.

With more progress to be made, Bishop talks to BlackBook Motorsport about the importance of creating an inclusive environment and how the organisation plans to enact meaningful change in motorsport.

Why is an organisation like Racing Pride necessary today?

Perhaps we should have [set it up] a little bit earlier [than 2019], but it’s better late than never. Some people said to me ‘why did you do it at all?’ [They argued] life for LGBTQ+ people has generally become better in recent years and you’re doing it at a time when the battle is partly won.

The answer is no. There are 195 countries in the world. In just about half of them, LGBTQ+ people face societal and often legal injustice. There are at least 80 countries in the world where [that lifestyle] can lead to imprisonment.

Specifically in motorsport, which is a sport I’ve worked in for 30 years and love – always have loved, always will love – it is a very white, male, heterosexual [environment]. When I arrived in Formula One 30-odd years ago, I was known as the only gay in the Formula One village, which of course I can’t have been.

Matt Bishop, pictured here with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2012, has worked with many drivers during his time in Formula One

How do you spread your message to different demographics?

[Archaic attitudes] make motorsport feel unwelcoming. [For the younger demographic] who are not white male heterosexuals, perhaps they would feel maybe this isn’t for them, maybe they’ll try and become an Olympic diver because Tom Daley has shown that it’s possible. There’s that side of things, helping youngsters through these rites of passage, but it’s also helping adults who work with them to be more inclusive.

The second point is the older members of the paddock, people in their 30s, 40s or perhaps even 50s. It’s not so much on the media side or the marketing side as, in general, they have begun to feel much more comfortable, but on the mechanic and engineering side, they don’t feel able to come out.

I find people come to me in the paddock and ask for my mobile number, or they’ve worked out my email address and I get an email from them. It won’t be from their official team address, it’s from their Gmail, or maybe even not using a real name.

You will get the most out of your employees if they feel relaxed, happy and welcome. They will work better, they will make fewer mistakes if you have a good inclusive LGBTQ+ policy. That sometimes hits a nerve [and people begin to understand the problem].

Has it been hypocritical for Formula One to promote #WeRaceAsOne and then visit countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar?

If somebody said those regimes in certain countries are unacceptable because of the way they treat their women and their LGBTQ+ citizens, therefore, we should not race; I can defend the view. That was the view in the 1960s and 1970s around South Africa [with a variety of international boycotts during apartheid].

It’s a completely legitimate view, but let’s talk about reality. South Africa wasn’t the global powerhouse of mega billions that the Middle East is now. We see how the likes of Saudi Arabia is investing in sport – very politically – so the chances of Formula One boycotting is unlikely. There are other countries like the UK and the US which are imperfect too.

The #WeRaceAsOne initiative was launched in 2020 before Formula One staged races in Saudi Arabia and Qatar in 2021

I think the middle ground is something that Formula One is doing but it needs to do it better. When you go [to a country like Saudi Arabia], you politely say, ‘we hope we put on a good motor race for you, but you knew who we were when you invited us’. The whole sport has signed up for the #WeRaceAsOne initiative and we should talk about that.

If the time racing in a country moves the needle ever so slightly towards people, whether that’s citizens or those running the country, beginning to realise that an element of positive change to a more liberal regime is desirable and possible, then we’ve done an extra bit of work that we should be doing.

It’s a capitalist world, but let’s do it in such a way as we leave a message, and I think we can courteously and effectively.

How much do figures like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel help to emphasise the importance of visibility?

They are the two leaders in this area. I’m happy to say that I worked extensively and closely with them at different times. They are obviously both brilliant drivers, but they’re also brilliant off track.

Seb is retired now so it’s kind of Lewis on his own a bit, and I would welcome other drivers stepping forward and lending their voice in support. It’s difficult, though. Some drivers work for teams that have important paying sponsors from that part of the world and it makes it that much harder for them.

Sebastian Vettel protested anti-LGBTQ+ legislation during the anthems at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix, while Lewis Hamilton has regularly worn a pride-inspired helmet during races, including at the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix

I’m not talking about being a revolutionary, I just mean patient, courteous rhetoric. I firmly believe that every person on this earth has an inalienable right to be who they want to be and love who they want to love. Perhaps it would make someone feel better about life if a visiting superstar, a straight ally, [came out in support]. It might speak to the coils of their fear.

For more information on what the Racing Pride organisation is trying to achieve in motorsport, click here.


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