David Letts is the Chair of Racing With Pride, the official LGBT+ network for the British horseracing industry, established in 2020 to provide a community, influence social change and promote diversity and inclusivity. The network was established as a result of David’s academic research into prevalence and attitudes around sexual orientation in the racing industry. The National Horse Racing Museum supports Racing With Pride and has recently acquired a selection of their objects into the museum collection, as a clear and constant reminder of the progress made and the ongoing need for inclusivity and representation within the sport.
The following interview was carried out by Kenza Gray, a former Master’s student while on placement at the museum.
Your research into sexual diversity and equality in horseracing helped establish Racing With Pride, can you give an overview of this research and its role in Racing With Pride?
In 2018, I looked at sexual orientation within the sport; like most other sporting settings, it’s a subject that receives little dialogue. I was conscious we didn’t have many ‘out’ professional athletes, which is where much of the impetus for this work came from, alongside my own personal experience in the sport of not seeing visible LGBT+ role models.
One of the key findings from the research was that, across the sport, we have at or above the national population estimates of LGBT+ individuals, which is a real positive. However, a significant percentage were not ‘out’ in the workplace. Another finding was the high usage of homophobic language reported, as both ‘banter’ and abuse. As such, potential links between such a culture, where this language is being used frequently, and an inability or unwillingness for individuals to ‘come out’ were considered.
It was important for the industry to encourage an open conversation around the topic, to provide people with knowledge and skills which allow them to engage and make progress. Racing With Pride was established with three main aims around raising awareness through visibility; furthering understanding through education; and offering a safe space for individuals to connect.
Has this reception from the industry towards Racing With Pride been surprising?
Largely, the reception has been positive from across the sport, with significant engagement in our e-learning and educational workshops, as well as through visible activation. In the early days, we were having to encourage engagement whereas, in the last year or two, we are seeing organisations come to us proactively with ideas for us to engage in more of an advisory capacity. People are coming to us saying, ‘we want to do more: we want depth to our work, to engage with communities. We want to do broader education pieces and review our policies. How can we do it and how can you help us?’ That change in approach has happened in a really short time.
What impact did you imagine Racing With Pride would have on the racing industry? Is it achieving those changes and what role do you envision it having in horseracing going forward?
I hope it has had an impact – if you look at the video we made at the National Horse Racing Museum, the sense of community and acceptance people have found demonstrates we have done what we set out to do. The more we can make people aware that we exist, the more people can find community and safety. So, it probably has done what I had hoped it would do, and more! It’s a very short space of time to make progress on something the sport had never really spoken about before. We should be very proud of what we’ve achieved in three years. Even more impressive is that we’re a group of voluntary individuals, who have managed this in whatever capacities we were able to between us. We have a hard-working and very skilled committee, who it wouldn’t have been possible without.
How did the link with The National Horse Racing Museum emerge, what has happened so far in this collaboration and what do we have to look forward to?
The museum reached out to us, further highlighting the proactive approaches we are seeing from organisations. We had been collecting various pieces of paraphernalia from the network, as and when events happened, which had been stored in a drawer in my office. When the museum said they would like to put a collection together to highlight Racing With Pride’s journey, it seemed like a fantastic opportunity to shine a light on the progress which had already been made… as well as free up some space in my office! More recently, the museum hosted Racing With Pride members and undertook some filming – the video was released to launch the exhibition as part of our ‘takeover’ during the summer. More widely, the support from the museum in their day-to-day activities, raising awareness on social media, visibility around the museum outside of the collection, and amongst their staff is very powerful.
From racecards to Racing With Pride silks, the museum now has this collection of objects. As you mentioned, these trace the history of your network; can you explain the importance of having such objects in a museum collection?
Having this collection is a really nice reminder of how far we have come in such a short time. It’s that permanent feeling. Things might have got lost in my house and so, who would actually see what we have done and remember the smaller details? It’s also being able to integrate into the sport’s history. We are not a sidenote or an add-on: we are, and have always been, part of the sport. But it’s only recently we have increased in visibility. These exhibits don’t need to be separate from the sport and its history, they’re here for anybody and everybody visiting the museum to see.
Knowing this representation and visibility is vital for the LGBTQ+ community and your network, are there plans for growth in the representation at race meetings?
The visibility is largely on racecourses, via big screen adverts and racecards, as well as being interviewed on TV to talk about the work and provide explanation on what we’re doing and why, it is really important to be able to flesh out some of those visible cues. We regularly meet as a group at racecourses and have enjoyed some larger group days out at Newmarket, York and Sandown – meetings which have already become annual get-togethers. We also have our very own racing silks, which are available for any owners who wish to lease them, on a single race lease, or a longer-term basis – if anybody is interested in using them on horses they own, please reach out to us.
There are already strong connections and collaborations with other organisations. Will these play into the future of Racing With Pride and where do you see RWP in future?
We are keen to work collaboratively with any and all organisations with a genuine desire to further LGBT+ inclusion within the sport. There is definitely a move from purely raising awareness, towards using these platforms for embedding depth of action. That’s really pleasing to see and what we are hoping to move forward with.
We want the industry to continue to engage and progress its work around LGBT+ inclusion and we are always happy to assist where we can, so do reach out. Our partnership with the National Horseracing Museum has provided us with both a platform for visibility, but also an education piece and community engagement – thank you.